By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Democracy, an American novel
Author: Adams, Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Democracy, an American novel" ***


By Henry Adams

First published anonymously, March 1880, and soon in various
unauthorized editions. It wasn’t until the 1925 edition that Adams
was listed as author. Henry Adams remarked (ironically as usual),
“The wholesale piracy of Democracy was the single real triumph of my
life.”--it was very popular, as readers tried to guess who the author
was and who the characters really were. Chapters XII and XIII were
originally misnumbered.

Chapter I

FOR reasons which many persons thought ridiculous, Mrs. Lightfoot Lee
decided to pass the winter in Washington. She was in excellent health,
but she said that the climate would do her good. In New York she had
troops of friends, but she suddenly became eager to see again the very
small number of those who lived on the Potomac. It was only to her
closest intimates that she honestly acknowledged herself to be tortured
by ennui. Since her husband’s death, five years before, she had lost
her taste for New York society; she had felt no interest in the price
of stocks, and very little in the men who dealt in them; she had become
serious. What was it all worth, this wilderness of men and women as
monotonous as the brown stone houses they lived in? In her despair
she had resorted to desperate measures. She had read philosophy in the
original German, and the more she read, the more she was disheartened
that so much culture should lead to nothing--nothing.

After talking of Herbert Spencer for an entire evening with a very
literary transcendental commission-merchant, she could not see that her
time had been better employed than when in former days she had passed it
in flirting with a very agreeable young stock-broker; indeed, there
was an evident proof to the contrary, for the flirtation might lead to
something--had, in fact, led to marriage; while the philosophy could
lead to nothing, unless it were perhaps to another evening of the
same kind, because transcendental philosophers are mostly elderly men,
usually married, and, when engaged in business, somewhat apt to be
sleepy towards evening. Nevertheless Mrs. Lee did her best to turn her
study to practical use. She plunged into philanthropy, visited prisons,
inspected hospitals, read the literature of pauperism and crime,
saturated herself with the statistics of vice, until her mind had nearly
lost sight of virtue. At last it rose in rebellion against her, and
she came to the limit of her strength. This path, too, seemed to lead
nowhere. She declared that she had lost the sense of duty, and that, so
far as concerned her, all the paupers and criminals in New York might
henceforward rise in their majesty and manage every railway on the
continent. Why should she care? What was the city to her? She could
find nothing in it that seemed to demand salvation. What gave peculiar
sanctity to numbers? Why were a million people, who all resembled each
other, any way more interesting than one person? What aspiration could
she help to put into the mind of this great million-armed monster that
would make it worth her love or respect? Religion? A thousand powerful
churches were doing their best, and she could see no chance for a
new faith of which she was to be the inspired prophet. Ambition? High
popular ideals? Passion for whatever is lofty and pure? The very words
irritated her. Was she not herself devoured by ambition, and was she not
now eating her heart out because she could find no one object worth a

Was it ambition--real ambition--or was it mere restlessness that
made Mrs. Lightfoot Lee so bitter against New York and Philadelphia,
Baltimore and Boston, American life in general and all life in
particular? What did she want? Not social position, for she herself was
an eminently respectable Philadelphian by birth; her father a famous
clergyman; and her husband had been equally irreproachable, a descendant
of one branch of the Virginia Lees, which had drifted to New York in
search of fortune, and had found it, or enough of it to keep the young
man there. His widow had her own place in society which no one disputed.
Though not brighter than her neighbours, the world persisted in classing
her among clever women; she had wealth, or at least enough of it to give
her all that money can give by way of pleasure to a sensible woman in an
American city; she had her house and her carriage; she dressed well; her
table was good, and her furniture was never allowed to fall behind the
latest standard of decorative art. She had travelled in Europe, and
after several visits, covering some years of time, had returned home,
carrying in one hand, as it were, a green-grey landscape, a remarkably
pleasing specimen of Corot, and in the other some bales of Persian and
Syrian rugs and embroideries, Japanese bronzes and porcelain. With this
she declared Europe to be exhausted, and she frankly avowed that she was
American to the tips of her fingers; she neither knew nor greatly cared
whether America or Europe were best to live in; she had no violent love
for either, and she had no objection to abusing both; but she meant to
get all that American life had to offer, good or bad, and to drink it
down to the dregs, fully determined that whatever there was in it
she would have, and that whatever could be made out of it she would
manufacture. “I know,” said she, “that America produces petroleum and
pigs; I have seen both on the steamers; and I am told it produces silver
and gold. There is choice enough for any woman.”

Yet, as has been already said, Mrs. Lee’s first experience was not a
success. She soon declared that New York might represent the petroleum
or the pigs, but the gold of life was not to be discovered there by her

Not but that there was variety enough; a variety of people, occupations,
aims, and thoughts; but that all these, after growing to a certain
height, stopped short. They found nothing to hold them up. She knew,
more or less intimately, a dozen men whose fortunes ranged between one
million and forty millions. What did they do with their money? What
could they do with it that was different from what other men did? After
all, it is absurd to spend more money than is enough to satisfy all
one’s wants; it is vulgar to live in two houses in the same street, and
to drive six horses abreast. Yet, after setting aside a certain income
sufficient for all one’s wants, what was to be done with the rest? To
let it accumulate was to own one’s failure; Mrs. Lee’s great grievance
was that it did accumulate, without changing or improving the quality
of its owners. To spend it in charity and public works was doubtless
praiseworthy, but was it wise? Mrs. Lee had read enough political
economy and pauper reports to be nearly convinced that public work
should be public duty, and that great benefactions do harm as well as

And even supposing it spent on these objects, how could it do more than
increase and perpetuate that same kind of human nature which was her
great grievance? Her New York friends could not meet this question
except by falling back upon their native commonplaces, which she
recklessly trampled upon, averring that, much as she admired the genius
of the famous traveller, Mr. Gulliver, she never had been able, since
she became a widow, to accept the Brobdingnagian doctrine that he who
made two blades of grass grow where only one grew before deserved better
of mankind than the whole race of politicians. She would not find fault
with the philosopher had he required that the grass should be of an
improved quality; “but,” said she, “I cannot honestly pretend that I
should be pleased to see two New York men where I now see one; the idea
is too ridiculous; more than one and a half would be fatal to me.”

Then came her Boston friends, who suggested that higher education was
precisely what she wanted; she should throw herself into a crusade for
universities and art-schools. Mrs. Lee turned upon them with a sweet
smile; “Do you know,” said she, “that we have in New York already the
richest university in America, and that its only trouble has always been
that it can get no scholars even by paying for them? Do you want me to
go out into the streets and waylay boys? If the heathen refuse to be
converted, can you give me power over the stake and the sword to compel
them to come in? And suppose you can? Suppose I march all the boys in
Fifth Avenue down to the university and have them all properly taught
Greek and Latin, English literature, ethics, and German philosophy.
What then? You do it in Boston. Now tell me honestly what comes of it. I
suppose you have there a brilliant society; numbers of poets, scholars,
philosophers, statesmen, all up and down Beacon Street. Your evenings
must be sparkling. Your press must scintillate. How is it that we New
Yorkers never hear of it? We don’t go much into your society; but when
we do, it doesn’t seem so very much better than our own. You are just
like the rest of us. You grow six inches high, and then you stop. Why
will not somebody grow to be a tree and cast a shadow?”

The average member of New York society, although not unused to this
contemptuous kind of treatment from his leaders, retaliated in his
blind, common-sense way. “What does the woman want?” he said. “Is her
head turned with the Tulieries and Marlborough House? Does she think
herself made for a throne? Why does she not lecture for women’s rights?
Why not go on the stage? If she cannot be contented like other people,
what need is there for abusing us just because she feels herself no
taller than we are? What does she expect to get from her sharp tongue?
What does she know, any way?”

Mrs. Lee certainly knew very little. She had read voraciously and
promiscuously one subject after another. Ruskin and Taine had danced
merrily through her mind, hand in hand with Darwin and Stuart Mill,
Gustave Droz and Algernon Swinburne. She had even laboured over the
literature of her own country. She was perhaps, the only woman in New
York who knew something of American history. Certainly she could not
have repeated the list of Presidents in their order, but she knew that
the Constitution divided the government into Executive, Legislative, and
Judiciary; she was aware that the President, the Speaker, and the
Chief Justice were important personages, and instinctively she wondered
whether they might not solve her problem; whether they were the shade
trees which she saw in her dreams.

Here, then, was the explanation of her restlessness, discontent,
ambition,--call it what you will. It was the feeling of a passenger on
an ocean steamer whose mind will not give him rest until he has been in
the engine-room and talked with the engineer. She wanted to see with her
own eyes the action of primary forces; to touch with her own hand the
massive machinery of society; to measure with her own mind the capacity
of the motive power. She was bent upon getting to the heart of the great
American mystery of democracy and government. She cared little where
her pursuit might lead her, for she put no extravagant value upon life,
having already, as she said, exhausted at least two lives, and being
fairly hardened to insensibility in the process. “To lose a husband and
a baby,” said she, “and keep one’s courage and reason, one must become
very hard or very soft. I am now pure steel. You may beat my heart with
a trip-hammer and it will beat the trip-hammer back again.”

Perhaps after exhausting the political world she might try again
elsewhere; she did not pretend to say where she might then go, or what
she should do; but at present she meant to see what amusement there
might be in politics.

Her friends asked what kind of amusement she expected to find among
the illiterate swarm of ordinary people who in Washington represented
constituencies so dreary that in comparison New York was a New
Jerusalem, and Broad Street a grove of Academe. She replied that if
Washington society were so bad as this, she should have gained all she
wanted, for it would be a pleasure to return,--precisely the feeling she
longed for. In her own mind, however, she frowned on the idea of
seeking for men. What she wished to see, she thought, was the clash
of interests, the interests of forty millions of people and a whole
continent, centering at Washington; guided, restrained, controlled,
or unrestrained and uncontrollable, by men of ordinary mould; the
tremendous forces of government, and the machinery of society, at work.
What she wanted, was POWER.

Perhaps the force of the engine was a little confused in her mind with
that of the engineer, the power with the men who wielded it. Perhaps the
human interest of politics was after all what really attracted her, and,
however strongly she might deny it, the passion for exercising power,
for its own sake, might dazzle and mislead a woman who had exhausted all
the ordinary feminine resources. But why speculate about her motives?
The stage was before her, the curtain was rising, the actors were ready
to enter; she had only to go quietly on among the supernumeraries and
see how the play was acted and the stage effects were produced; how the
great tragedians mouthed, and the stage-manager swore.

Chapter II

ON the first of December, Mrs. Lee took the train for Washington, and
before five o’clock that evening she was entering her newly hired
house on Lafayette Square. She shrugged her shoulders with a mingled
expression of contempt and grief at the curious barbarism of the
curtains and the wall-papers, and her next two days were occupied with
a life-and-death struggle to get the mastery over her surroundings. In
this awful contest the interior of the doomed house suffered as though
a demon were in it; not a chair, not a mirror, not a carpet, was left
untouched, and in the midst of the worst confusion the new mistress sat,
calm as the statue of Andrew Jackson in the square under her eyes, and
issued her orders with as much decision as that hero had ever shown.
Towards the close of the second day, victory crowned her forehead. A
new era, a nobler conception of duty and existence, had dawned upon
that benighted and heathen residence. The wealth of Syria and Persia was
poured out upon the melancholy Wilton carpets; embroidered comets and
woven gold from Japan and Teheran depended from and covered over every
sad stuff-curtain; a strange medley of sketches, paintings, fans,
embroideries, and porcelain was hung, nailed, pinned, or stuck against
the wall; finally the domestic altarpiece, the mystical Corot landscape,
was hoisted to its place over the parlour fire, and then all was over.
The setting sun streamed softly in at the windows, and peace reigned in
that redeemed house and in the heart of its mistress.

“I think it will do now, Sybil,” said she, surveying the scene.

“It must,” replied Sybil. “You haven’t a plate or a fan or coloured
scarf left. You must send out and buy some of these old negro-women’s
bandannas if you are going to cover anything else. What is the use? Do
you suppose any human being in Washington will like it? They will think
you demented.”

“There is such a thing as self-respect,” replied her sister, calmly.

Sybil--Miss Sybil Ross--was Madeleine Lee’s sister. The keenest
psychologist could not have detected a single feature quality which they
had in common, and for that reason they were devoted friends. Madeleine
was thirty, Sybil twenty-four. Madeleine was indescribable; Sybil was
transparent. Madeleine was of medium height with a graceful figure,
a well-set head, and enough golden-brown hair to frame a face full of
varying expression. Her eyes were never for two consecutive hours of the
same shade, but were more often blue than grey. People who envied her
smile said that she cultivated a sense of humour in order to show her
teeth. Perhaps they were right; but there was no doubt that her habit
of talking with gesticulation would never have grown upon her unless
she had known that her hands were not only beautiful but expressive.
She dressed as skilfully as New York women do, but in growing older
she began to show symptoms of dangerous unconventionality. She had been
heard to express a low opinion of her countrywomen who blindly fell down
before the golden calf of Mr. Worth, and she had even fought a battle
of great severity, while it lasted, with one of her best-dressed
friends who had been invited--and had gone--to Mr. Worth’s afternoon
tea-parties. The secret was that Mrs. Lee had artistic tendencies, and
unless they were checked in time, there was no knowing what might be
the consequence. But as yet they had done no harm; indeed, they rather
helped to give her that sort of atmosphere which belongs only to certain
women; as indescribable as the afterglow; as impalpable as an Indian
summer mist; and non-existent except to people who feel rather than
reason. Sybil had none of it. The imagination gave up all attempts
to soar where she came. A more straightforward, downright, gay,
sympathetic, shallow, warm-hearted, sternly practical young woman has
rarely touched this planet. Her mind had room for neither grave-stones
nor guide-books; she could not have lived in the past or the future if
she had spent her days in churches and her nights in tombs. “She was
not clever, like Madeleine, thank Heaven.” Madeleine was not an orthodox
member of the church; sermons bored her, and clergymen never failed to
irritate every nerve in her excitable system. Sybil was a simple and
devout worshipper at the ritualistic altar; she bent humbly before the
Paulist fathers. When she went to a ball she always had the best partner
in the room, and took it as a matter of course; but then, she always
prayed for one; somehow it strengthened her faith. Her sister took care
never to laugh at her on this score, or to shock her religious opinions.
“Time enough,” said she, “for her to forget religion when religion
fails her.” As for regular attendance at church, Madeleine was able to
reconcile their habits without trouble. She herself had not entered a
church for years; she said it gave her unchristian feelings; but Sybil
had a voice of excellent quality, well trained and cultivated:
Madeleine insisted that she should sing in the choir, and by this
little manoeuvre, the divergence of their paths was made less evident.
Madeleine did not sing, and therefore could not go to church with Sybil.
This outrageous fallacy seemed perfectly to answer its purpose, and
Sybil accepted it, in good faith, as a fair working principle which
explained itself.

Madeleine was sober in her tastes. She wasted no money. She made no

She walked rather than drove, and wore neither diamonds nor brocades.
But the general impression she made was nevertheless one of luxury. On
the other hand, her sister had her dresses from Paris, and wore them
and her ornaments according to all the formulas; she was good-naturedly
correct, and bent her round white shoulders to whatever burden the
Parisian autocrat chose to put upon them. Madeleine never interfered,
and always paid the bills.

Before they had been ten days in Washington, they fell gently into their
place and were carried along without an effort on the stream of social

Society was kind; there was no reason for its being otherwise. Mrs. Lee
and her sister had no enemies, held no offices, and did their best to
make themselves popular. Sybil had not passed summers at Newport and
winters in New York in vain; and neither her face nor her figure, her
voice nor her dancing, needed apology. Politics were not her strong
point. She was induced to go once to the Capitol and to sit ten minutes
in the gallery of the Senate. No one ever knew what her impressions
were; with feminine tact she managed not to betray herself But, in
truth, her notion of legislative bodies was vague, floating between her
experience at church and at the opera, so that the idea of a performance
of some kind was never out of her head. To her mind the Senate was a
place where people went to recite speeches, and she naively assumed that
the speeches were useful and had a purpose, but as they did not interest
her she never went again. This is a very common conception of Congress;
many Congressmen share it.

Her sister was more patient and bolder. She went to the Capitol nearly
every day for at least two weeks. At the end of that time her interest
began to flag, and she thought it better to read the debates every
morning in the Congressional Record. Finding this a laborious and not
always an instructive task, she began to skip the dull parts; and in
the absence of any exciting question, she at last resigned herself
to skipping the whole. Nevertheless she still had energy to visit the
Senate gallery occasionally when she was told that a splendid orator
was about to speak on a question of deep interest to his country.
She listened with a little disposition to admire, if she could; and,
whenever she could, she did admire. She said nothing, but she listened
sharply. She wanted to learn how the machinery of government worked,
and what was the quality of the men who controlled it. One by one, she
passed them through her crucibles, and tested them by acids and by fire.

A few survived her tests and came out alive, though more or less
disfigured, where she had found impurities. Of the whole number, only
one retained under this process enough character to interest her.

In these early visits to Congress, Mrs. Lee sometimes had the company
of John Carrington, a Washington lawyer about forty years old, who, by
virtue of being a Virginian and a distant connection of her husband,
called himself a cousin, and took a tone of semi-intimacy, which Mrs.
Lee accepted because Carrington was a man whom she liked, and because
he was one whom life had treated hardly. He was of that unfortunate
generation in the south which began existence with civil war, and he was
perhaps the more unfortunate because, like most educated Virginians of
the old Washington school, he had seen from the first that, whatever
issue the war took, Virginia and he must be ruined. At twenty-two he had
gone into the rebel army as a private and carried his musket modestly
through a campaign or two, after which he slowly rose to the rank of
senior captain in his regiment, and closed his services on the staff of
a major-general, always doing scrupulously enough what he conceived to
be his duty, and never doing it with enthusiasm. When the rebel armies
surrendered, he rode away to his family plantation--not a difficult
thing to do, for it was only a few miles from Appomatox--and at once
began to study law; then, leaving his mother and sisters to do what
they could with the worn-out plantation, he began the practice of law
in Washington, hoping thus to support himself and them. He had succeeded
after a fashion, and for the first time the future seemed not absolutely
dark. Mrs. Lee’s house was an oasis to him, and he found himself, to
his surprise, almost gay in her company. The gaiety was of a very quiet
kind, and Sybil, while friendly with him, averred that he was certainly
dull; but this dulness had a fascination for Madeleine, who, having
tasted many more kinds of the wine of life than Sybil, had learned to
value certain delicacies of age and flavour that were lost upon younger
and coarser palates. He talked rather slowly and almost with effort, but
he had something of the dignity--others call it stiffness--of the
old Virginia school, and twenty years of constant responsibility
and deferred hope had added a touch of care that bordered closely on
sadness. His great attraction was that he never talked or seemed to
think of himself. Mrs. Lee trusted in him by instinct. “He is a type!”
 said she; “he is my idea of George Washington at thirty.”

One morning in December, Carrington entered Mrs. Lee’s parlour towards
noon, and asked if she cared to visit the Capitol.

“You will have a chance of hearing to-day what may be the last great
speech of our greatest statesman,” said he; “you should come.”

“A splendid sample of our native raw material, sir?” asked she,
fresh from a reading of Dickens, and his famous picture of American

“Precisely so,” said Carrington; “the Prairie Giant of Peonia, the
Favourite Son of Illinois; the man who came within three votes of
getting the party nomination for the Presidency last spring, and was
only defeated because ten small intriguers are sharper than one big one.
The Honourable Silas P. Ratcliffe, Senator from Illinois; he will be run
for the Presidency yet.”

“What does the P. stand for?” asked Sybil.

“I don’t remember ever to have heard his middle name,” said Carrington.

“Perhaps it is Peonia or Prairie; I can’t say.”

“He is the man whose appearance struck me so much when we were in the
Senate last week, is he not? A great, ponderous man, over six feet
high, very senatorial and dignified, with a large head and rather good
features?” inquired Mrs. Lee.

“The same,” replied Carrington. “By all means hear him speak. He is
the stumbling-block of the new President, who is to be allowed no peace
unless he makes terms with Ratcliffe; and so every one thinks that the
Prairie Giant of Peonia will have the choice of the State or Treasury
Department. If he takes either it will be the Treasury, for he is a
desperate political manager, and will want the patronage for the next
national convention.”

Mrs. Lee was delighted to hear the debate, and Carrington was delighted
to sit through it by her side, and to exchange running comments with her
on the speeches and the speakers.

“Have you ever met the Senator?” asked she.

“I have acted several times as counsel before his committees. He is an
excellent chairman, always attentive and generally civil.”

“Where was he born?”

“The family is a New England one, and I believe respectable. He came, I
think, from some place in the Connecticut Valley, but whether Vermont,
New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, I don’t know.”

“Is he an educated man?”

“He got a kind of classical education at one of the country colleges
there. I suspect he has as much education as is good for him. But he
went West very soon after leaving college, and being then young and
fresh from that hot-bed of abolition, he threw himself into the
anti-slavery movement in Illinois, and after a long struggle he rose
with the wave. He would not do the same thing now.”

“Why not?”

“He is older, more experienced, and not so wise. Besides, he has no
longer the time to wait. Can you see his eyes from here? I call them
Yankee eyes.”

“Don’t abuse the Yankees,” said Mrs. Lee; “I am half Yankee myself.”

“Is that abuse? Do you mean to deny that they have eyes?”

“I concede that there may be eyes among them; but Virginians are not
fair judges of their expression.”

“Cold eyes,” he continued; “steel grey, rather small, not unpleasant in
good-humour, diabolic in a passion, but worst when a little suspicious;
then they watch you as though you were a young rattle-snake, to be
killed when convenient.”

“Does he not look you in the face?”

“Yes; but not as though he liked you. His eyes only seem to ask the
possible uses you might be put to. Ah, the vice-president has given him
the floor; now we shall have it. Hard voice, is it not? like his eyes.
Hard manner, like his voice. Hard all through.”

“What a pity he is so dreadfully senatorial!” said Mrs. Lee; “otherwise
I rather admire him.”

“Now he is settling down to his work,” continued Carrington. “See how he
dodges all the sharp issues. What a thing it is to be a Yankee! What a
genius the fellow has for leading a party! Do you see how well it is all
done? The new President flattered and conciliated, the party united and
given a strong lead. And now we shall see how the President will deal
with him. Ten to one on Ratcliffe. Come, there is that stupid ass from
Missouri getting up. Let us go.”

As they passed down the steps and out into the Avenue, Mrs. Lee turned
to Carrington as though she had been reflecting deeply and had at length
reached a decision.

“Mr. Carrington,” said she, “I want to know Senator Ratcliffe.”

“You will meet him to-morrow evening,” replied Carrington, “at your
senatorial dinner.”

The Senator from New York, the Honourable Schuyler Clinton, was an old
admirer of Mrs. Lee, and his wife was a cousin of hers, more or less
distant. They had lost no time in honouring the letter of credit she
thus had upon them, and invited her and her sister to a solemn dinner,
as imposing as political dignity could make it. Mr. Carrington, as a
connection of hers, was one of the party, and almost the only one among
the twenty persons at table who had neither an office, nor a title, nor
a constituency.

Senator Clinton received Mrs. Lee and her sister with tender enthusiasm,
for they were attractive specimens of his constituents. He pressed their
hands and evidently restrained himself only by an effort from embracing
them, for the Senator had a marked regard for pretty women, and had made
love to every girl with any pretensions to beauty that had appeared
in the State of New York for fully half a century. At the same time
he whispered an apology in her ear; he regretted so much that he was
obliged to forego the pleasure of taking her to dinner; Washington was
the only city in America where this could have happened, but it was a
fact that ladies here were very great stickiers for etiquette; on the
other hand he had the sad consolation that she would be the gainer,
for he had allotted to her Lord Skye, the British Minister, “a most
agreeable man and not married, as I have the misfortune to be;” and on
the other side “I have ventured to place Senator Ratcliffe, of Illinois,
whose admirable speech I saw you listening to with such rapt attention
yesterday. I thought you might like to know him. Did I do right?”

Madeleine assured him that he had divined her inmost wishes, and he
turned with even more warmth of affection to her sister: “As for you, my
dear--dear Sybil, what can I do to make your dinner agreeable? If I give
your sister a coronet, I am only sorry not to have a diadem for you. But
I have done everything in my power. The first Secretary of the Russian
Legation, Count Popoff, will take you in; a charming young man, my dear
Sybil; and on your other side I have placed the Assistant Secretary of
State, whom you know.”

And so, after the due delay, the party settled themselves at the
dinner-table, and Mrs. Lee found Senator Ratcliffe’s grey eyes resting
on her face for a moment as they sat down.

Lord Skye was very agreeable, and, at almost any other moment of her
life, Mrs. Lee would have liked nothing better than to talk with him
from the beginning to the end of her dinner. Tall, slender, bald-headed,
awkward, and stammering with his elaborate British stammer whenever it
suited his convenience to do so; a sharp observer who had wit which he
commonly concealed; a humourist who was satisfied to laugh silently at
his own humour; a diplomatist who used the mask of frankness with great
effect; Lord Skye was one of the most popular men in Washington. Every
one knew that he was a ruthless critic of American manners, but he had
the art to combine ridicule with good-humour, and he was all the more
popular accordingly. He was an outspoken admirer of American women
in everything except their voices, and he did not even shrink from
occasionally quizzing a little the national peculiarities of his own
countrywomen; a sure piece of flattery to their American cousins. He
would gladly have devoted himself to Mrs. Lee, but decent civility
required that he should pay some attention to his hostess, and he was
too good a diplomatist not to be attentive to a hostess who was the wife
of a Senator, and that Senator the chairman of the committee of foreign

The moment his head was turned, Mrs. Lee dashed at her Peonia Giant, who
was then consuming his fish, and wishing he understood why the British
Minister had worn no gloves, while he himself had sacrificed his
convictions by wearing the largest and whitest pair of French kids that
could be bought for money on Pennsylvania Avenue. There was a little
touch of mortification in the idea that he was not quite at home among
fashionable people, and at this instant he felt that true happiness was
only to be found among the simple and honest sons and daughters of toil.
A certain secret jealousy of the British Minister is always lurking in
the breast of every American Senator, if he is truly democratic; for
democracy, rightly understood, is the government of the people, by the
people, for the benefit of Senators, and there is always a danger that
the British Minister may not understand this political principle as he
should. Lord Skye had run the risk of making two blunders; of offending
the Senator from New York by neglecting his wife, and the Senator from
Illinois by engrossing the attention of Mrs. Lee. A young Englishman
would have done both, but Lord Skye had studied the American
constitution. The wife of the Senator from New York now thought him most
agreeable, and at the same moment the Senator from Illinois awoke to the
conviction that after all, even in frivolous and fashionable circles,
true dignity is in no danger of neglect; an American Senator
represents a sovereign state; the great state of Illinois is as big
as England--with the convenient omission of Wales, Scotland, Ireland,
Canada, India, Australia, and a few other continents and islands; and in
short, it was perfectly clear that Lord Skye was not formidable to him,
even in light society; had not Mrs. Lee herself as good as said that no
position equalled that of an American Senator?

In ten minutes Mrs. Lee had this devoted statesman at her feet. She had
not studied the Senate without a purpose. She had read with unerring
instinct one general characteristic of all Senators, a boundless
and guileless thirst for flattery, engendered by daily draughts from
political friends or dependents, then becoming a necessity like a dram,
and swallowed with a heavy smile of ineffable content. A single glance
at Mr. Ratcliffe’s face showed Madeleine that she need not be afraid
of flattering too grossly; her own self-respect, not his, was the only
restraint upon her use of this feminine bait.

She opened upon him with an apparent simplicity and gravity, a quiet
repose of manner, and an evident consciousness of her own strength,
which meant that she was most dangerous.

“I heard your speech yesterday, Mr. Ratcliffe. I am glad to have a
chance of telling you how much I was impressed by it. It seemed to me
masterly. Do you not find that it has had a great effect?”

“I thank you, madam. I hope it will help to unite the party, but as yet
we have had no time to measure its results. That will require several
days more.” The Senator spoke in his senatorial manner, elaborate,
condescending, and a little on his guard.

“Do you know,” said Mrs. Lee, turning towards him as though he were a
valued friend, and looking deep into his eyes, “Do you know that every
one told me I should be shocked by the falling off in political ability
at Washington? I did not believe them, and since hearing your speech I
am sure they are mistaken. Do you yourself think there is less ability
in Congress than there used to be?”

“Well, madam, it is difficult to answer that question. Government is not
so easy now as it was formerly. There are different customs. There are
many men of fair abilities in public life; many more than there used to
be; and there is sharper criticism and more of it.”

“Was I right in thinking that you have a strong resemblance to Daniel
Webster in your way of speaking? You come from the same neighbourhood,
do you not?”

Mrs. Lee here hit on Ratcliffe’s weak point; the outline of his head
had, in fact, a certain resemblance to that of Webster, and he prided
himself upon it, and on a distant relationship to the Expounder of the
Constitution; he began to think that Mrs. Lee was a very intelligent
person. His modest admission of the resemblance gave her the opportunity
to talk of Webster’s oratory, and the conversation soon spread to a
discussion of the merits of Clay and Calhoun. The Senator found that his
neighbour--a fashionable New York woman, exquisitely dressed, and with
a voice and manner seductively soft and gentle--had read the speeches of
Webster and Calhoun. She did not think it necessary to tell him that she
had persuaded the honest Carrington to bring her the volumes and to mark
such passages as were worth her reading; but she took care to lead the
conversation, and she criticised with some skill and more humour the
weak points in Websterian oratory, saying with a little laugh and a
glance into his delighted eyes:

“My judgment may not be worth much, Mr. Senator, but it does seem to me
that our fathers thought too much of themselves, and till you teach
me better I shall continue to think that the passage in your speech
of yesterday which began with, ‘Our strength lies in this twisted and
tangled mass of isolated principles, the hair of the half-sleeping giant
of Party,’ is both for language and imagery quite equal to anything of

The Senator from Illinois rose to this gaudy fly like a huge,
two-hundred-pound salmon; his white waistcoat gave out a mild silver
reflection as he slowly came to the surface and gorged the hook. He made
not even a plunge, not one perceptible effort to tear out the barbed
weapon, but, floating gently to her feet, allowed himself to be landed
as though it were a pleasure. Only miserable casuists will ask whether
this was fair play on Madeleine’s part; whether flattery so gross
cost her conscience no twinge, and whether any woman can without
self-abasement be guilty of such shameless falsehood. She, however,
scorned the idea of falsehood. She would have defended herself by saying
that she had not so much praised Ratcliffe as depreciated Webster,
and that she was honest in her opinion of the old-fashioned American
oratory. But she could not deny that she had wilfully allowed the
Senator to draw conclusions very different from any she actually held.
She could not deny that she had intended to flatter him to the extent
necessary for her purpose, and that she was pleased at her success.
Before they rose from table the Senator had quite unbent himself; he
was talking naturally, shrewdly, and with some humour; he had told her
Illinois stories; spoken with extraordinary freedom about his political
situation; and expressed the wish to call upon Mrs. Lee, if he could
ever hope to find her at home.

“I am always at home on Sunday evenings,” said she.

To her eyes he was the high-priest of American politics; he was charged
with the meaning of the mysteries, the clue to political hieroglyphics.
Through him she hoped to sound the depths of statesmanship and to
bring up from its oozy bed that pearl of which she was in search; the
mysterious gem which must lie hidden somewhere in politics. She wanted
to understand this man; to turn him inside out; to experiment on him and
use him as young physiologists use frogs and kittens. If there was good
or bad in him, she meant to find its meaning.

And he was a western widower of fifty; his quarters in Washington were
in gaunt boarding-house rooms, furnished only with public documents and
enlivened by western politicians and office-seekers. In the summer he
retired to a solitary, white framehouse with green blinds, surrounded
by a few feet of uncared-for grass and a white fence; its interior more
dreary still, with iron stoves, oil-cloth carpets, cold white walls, and
one large engraving of Abraham Lincoln in the parlour; all in Peonia,
Illinois! What equality was there between these two combatants? what
hope for him? what risk for her? And yet Madeleine Lee had fully her
match in Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe.

Chapter III

MRS. Lee soon became popular. Her parlour was a favourite haunt of
certain men and women who had the art of finding its mistress at home;
an art which seemed not to be within the powers of everybody. Carrington
was apt to be there more often than any one else, so that he was looked
on as almost a part of the family, and if Madeleine wanted a book from
the library, or an extra man at her dinner-table, Carrington was pretty
certain to help her to the one or the other. Old Baron Jacobi, the
Bulgarian minister, fell madly in love with both sisters, as he commonly
did with every pretty face and neat figure. He was a witty, cynical,
broken-down Parisian roué, kept in Washington for years past by his
debts and his salary; always grumbling because there was no opera, and
mysteriously disappearing on visits to New York; a voracious devourer of
French and German literature, especially of novels; a man who seemed to
have met every noted or notorious personage of the century, and whose
mind was a magazine of amusing information; an excellent musical critic,
who was not afraid to criticise Sybil’s singing; a connoisseur in
bric-à-brac, who laughed at Madeleine’s display of odds and ends, and
occasionally brought her a Persian plate or a bit of embroidery, which
he said was good and would do her credit. This old sinner believed in
everything that was perverse and wicked, but he accepted the prejudices
of Anglo-Saxon society, and was too clever to obtrude his opinions upon

He would have married both sisters at once more willingly than either
alone, but as he feelingly said, “If I were forty years younger,
mademoiselle, you should not sing to me so calmly.” His friend
Popoff, an intelligent, vivacious Russian, with very Calmuck features,
susceptible as a girl, and passionately fond of music, hung over Sybil’s
piano by the hour; he brought Russian airs which he taught her to sing,
and, if the truth were known, he bored Madeleine desperately, for she
undertook to act the part of duenna to her younger sister.

A very different visitor was Mr. C. C. French, a young member of
Congress from Connecticut, who aspired to act the part of the educated
gentleman in politics, and to purify the public tone. He had reform
principles and an unfortunately conceited maimer; he was rather wealthy,
rather clever, rather well-educated, rather honest, and rather vulgar.
His allegiance was divided between Mrs. Lee and her sister, whom he
infuriated by addressing as “Miss Sybil” with patronising familiarity.
He was particularly strong in what he called “badinaige,” and his
playful but ungainly attempts at wit drove Mrs.

Lee beyond the bounds of patience. When in a solemn mood, he talked as
though he were practising for the ear of a college debating society,
and with a still worse effect on the patience; but with all this he was
useful, always bubbling with the latest political gossip, and deeply
interested in the fate of party stakes. Quite another sort of person was
Mr. Hartbeest Schneidekoupon, a citizen of Philadelphia, though commonly
resident in New York, where he had fallen a victim to Sybil’s charms,
and made efforts to win her young affections by instructing her in the
mysteries of currency and protection, to both which subjects he was
devoted. To forward these two interests and to watch over Miss Ross’s
welfare, he made periodical visits to Washington, where he closeted
himself with committee-men and gave expensive dinners to members of
Congress. Mr. Schneidekoupon was rich, and about thirty years old, tall
and thin, with bright eyes and smooth face, elaborate manners and
much loquacity. He had the reputation of turning rapid intellectual
somersaults, partly to amuse himself and partly to startle society. At
one moment he was artistic, and discoursed scientifically about his
own paintings; at another he was literary, and wrote a book on “Noble
Living,” with a humanitarian purpose; at another he was devoted to
sport, rode a steeplechase, played polo, and set up a four-in-hand; his
last occupation was to establish in Philadelphia the Protective Review,
a periodical in the interests of American industry, which he edited
himself, as a stepping-stone to Congress, the Cabinet, and the
Presidency. At about the same time he bought a yacht, and heavy bets
were pending among his sporting friends whether he would manage to
sink first his Review or his yacht. But he was an amiable and excellent
fellow through all his eccentricities, and he brought to Mrs. Lee the
simple outpourings of the amateur politician.

A much higher type of character was Mr. Nathan Gore, of Massachusetts,
a handsome man with a grey beard, a straight, sharply cut nose, and a
fine, penetrating eye; in his youth a successful poet whose satires made
a noise in their day, and are still remembered for the pungency and wit
of a few verses; then a deep student in Europe for many years, until his
famous “History of Spain in America” placed him instantly at the head of
American historians, and made him minister at Madrid, where he remained
four years to his entire satisfaction, this being the nearest approach
to a patent of nobility and a government pension which the American
citizen can attain. A change of administration had reduced him to
private life again, and after some years of retirement he was now in
Washington, willing to be restored to his old mission. Every President
thinks it respectable to have at least one literary man in his pay, and
Mr. Gore’s prospects were fair for obtaining his object, as he had the
active support of a majority of the Massachusetts delegation. He was
abominably selfish, colossally egoistic, and not a little vain; but
he was shrewd; he knew how to hold his tongue; he could flatter
dexterously, and he had learned to eschew satire. Only in confidence and
among friends he would still talk freely, but Mrs. Lee was not yet on
those terms with him. These were all men, and there was no want of women
in Mrs.

Lee’s parlour; but, after all, they are able to describe themselves
better than any poor novelist can describe them. Generally two currents
of conversation ran on together--one round Sybil, the other about

“Mees Ross,” said Count Popoff, leading in a handsome young foreigner,
“I have your permission to present to you my friend Count Orsini,
Secretary of the Italian Legation. Are you at home this afternoon? Count
Orsini sings also.”

“We are charmed to see Count Orsini. It is well you came so late, for I
have this moment come in from making Cabinet calls. They were so queer!
I have been crying with laughter for an hour past.” “Do you find these
calls amusing?” asked Popoff, gravely and diplomatically. “Indeed I
do! I went with Julia Schneidekoupon, you know, Madeleine; the
Schneidekoupons are descended from all the Kings of Israel, and are
prouder than Solomon in his glory. And when we got into the house of
some dreadful woman from Heaven knows where, imagine my feelings at
overhearing this conversation: ‘What may be your family name, ma’am?’
‘Schneidekoupon is my name,’ replies Julia, very tall and straight.
‘Have you any friends whom I should likely know?’ ‘I think not,’ says
Julia, severely. ‘Wal! I don’t seem to remember of ever having heerd the
name. But I s’pose it’s all right. I like to know who calls.’ I almost
had hysterics when we got into the street, but Julia could not see the
joke at all.”

Count Orsini was not quite sure that he himself saw the joke, so he only
smiled becomingly and showed his teeth. For simple, childlike vanity and
self-consciousness nothing equals an Italian Secretary of Legation at
twenty-five. Yet conscious that the effect of his personal beauty
would perhaps be diminished by permanent silence, he ventured to murmur

“Do you not find it very strange, this society in America?”

“Society!” laughed Sybil with gay contempt. “There are no snakes in
America, any more than in Norway.”

“Snakes, mademoiselle!” repeated Orsini, with the doubtful expression of
one who is not quite certain whether he shall risk walking on thin ice,
and decides to go softly: “Snakes! Indeed they would rather be doves I
would call them.”

A kind laugh from Sybil strengthened into conviction his hope that
he had made a joke in this unknown tongue. His face brightened, his
confidence returned; once or twice he softly repeated to himself: “Not
snakes; they would be doves!” But Mrs. Lee’s sensitive ear had caught
Sybil’s remark, and detected in it a certain tone of condescension which
was not to her taste.

The impassive countenances of these bland young Secretaries of Legation
seemed to acquiesce far too much as a matter of course in the idea
that there was no society except in the old world. She broke into the
conversation with an emphasis that fluttered the dove-cote:

“Society in America? Indeed there is society in America, and very
good society too; but it has a code of its own, and new-comers seldom
understand it. I will tell you what it is, Mr. Orsini, and you will
never be in danger of making any mistake. ‘Society’ in America means all
the honest, kindly-mannered, pleasant-voiced women, and all the good,
brave, unassuming men, between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Each
of these has a free pass in every city and village, ‘good for this
generation only,’ and it depends on each to make use of this pass or
not as it may happen to suit his or her fancy. To this rule there are
no exceptions, and those who say ‘Abraham is our father’ will surely
furnish food for that humour which is the staple product of our

The alarmed youths, who did not in the least understand the meaning of
this demonstration, looked on with a feeble attempt at acquiescence,
while Mrs.

Lee brandished her sugar-tongs in the act of transferring a lump of
sugar to her cup, quite unconscious of the slight absurdity of the
gesture, while Sybil stared in amazement, for it was not often that
her sister waved the stars and stripes so energetically. Whatever their
silent criticisms might be, however, Mrs. Lee was too much in earnest to
be conscious of them, or, indeed, to care for anything but what she
was saying. There was a moment’s pause when she came to the end of her
speech, and then the thread of talk was quietly taken up again where
Sybil’s incipient sneer had broken it.

Carrington came in. “What have you been doing at the Capitol?” asked

“Lobbying!” was the reply, given in the semi-serious tone of
Carrington’s humour.

“So soon, and Congress only two days old?” exclaimed Mrs. Lee.

“Madam,” rejoined Carrington, with his quietest malice, “Congressmen are
like birds of the air, which are caught only by the early worm.” “Good
afternoon, Mrs. Lee. Miss Sybil, how do you do again? Which of these
gentlemen’s hearts are you feeding upon now?” This was the refined style
of Mr. French, indulging in what he was pleased to term “badinaige.” He,
too, was on his way from the Capitol, and had come in for a cup of tea
and a little human society. Sybil made a face which plainly expressed a
longing to inflict on Mr. French some grievous personal wrong, but she
pretended not to hear. He sat down by Madeleine, and asked, “Did you see
Ratcliffe yesterday?”

“Yes,” said Madeleine; “he was here last evening with Mr. Carrington and
one or two others.”

“Did he say anything about politics?”

“Not a word. We talked mostly about books.”

“Books! What does he know about books?”

“You must ask him.”

“Well, this is the most ridiculous situation we are all in. No one
knows anything about the new President. You could take your oath that
everybody is in the dark. Ratcliffe says he knows as little as the rest
of us, but it can’t be true; he is too old a politician not to have
wires in his hand; and only to-day one of the pages of the Senate told
my colleague Cutter that a letter sent off by him yesterday was directed
to Sam Grimes, of North Bend, who, as every one knows, belongs to the
President’s particular crowd.--Why, Mr. Schneidekoupon! How do you do?
When did you come on?”

“Thank you; this morning,” replied Mr. Schneidekoupon, just entering the
room. “So glad to see you again, Mrs. Lee. How do you and your sister
like Washington? Do you know I have brought Julia on for a visit? I
thought I should find her here.

“She has just gone. She has been all the afternoon with Sybil, making
calls. She says you want her here to lobby for you, Mr. Schneidekoupon.
Is it true?”

“So I did,” replied he, with a laugh, “but she is precious little use.
So I’ve come to draft you into the service.”


“Yes; you know we all expect Senator Ratcliffe to be Secretary of the
Treasury, and it is very important for us to keep him straight on the
currency and the tariff. So I have come on to establish more intimate
relations with him, as they say in diplomacy. I want to get him to dine
with me at Welckley’s, but as I know he keeps very shy of politics I
thought my only chance was to make it a ladies’ dinner, so I brought on
Julia. I shall try and get Mrs. Schuyler Clinton, and I depend upon you
and your sister to help Julia out.”

“Me! at a lobby dinner! Is that proper?”

“Why not? You shall choose the guests.”

“I never heard of such a thing; but it would certainly be amusing. Sybil
must not go, but I might.” “Excuse me; Julia depends upon Miss Ross, and
will not go to table without her.”

“Well,” assented Mrs. Lee, hesitatingly, “perhaps if you get Mrs.
Clinton, and if your sister is there And who else?”

“Choose your own company.”

“I know no one.”

“Oh yes; here is French, not quite sound on the tariff, but good for
what we want just now. Then we can get Mr. Gore; he has his little
hatchet to grind too, and will be glad to help grind ours. We only want
two or three more, and I will have an extra man or so to fill up.”

“Do ask the Speaker. I want to know him.”

“I will, and Carrington, and my Pennsylvania Senator. That will do
nobly. Remember, Welckley’s, Saturday at seven.”

Meanwhile Sybil had been at the piano, and when she had sung for a time,
Orsini was induced to take her place, and show that it was possible
to sing without injury to one’s beauty. Baron Jacobi came in and found
fault with them both. Little Miss Dare--commonly known among her male
friends as little Daredevil--who was always absorbed in some flirtation
with a Secretary of Legation, came in, quite unaware that Popoff was
present, and retired with him into a corner, while Orsini and Jacobi
bullied poor Sybil, and fought with each other at the piano; everybody
was talking with very little reference to any reply, when at last Mrs.
Lee drove them all out of the room: “We are quiet people,” said she,
“and we dine at half-past six.”

Senator Ratcliffe had not failed to make his Sunday evening call upon

Lee. Perhaps it was not strictly correct to say that they had talked
books all the evening, but whatever the conversation was, it had
only confirmed Mr. Ratcliffe’s admiration for Mrs. Lee, who, without
intending to do so, had acted a more dangerous part than if she had been
the most accomplished of coquettes. Nothing could be more fascinating
to the weary politician in his solitude than the repose of Mrs. Lee’s
parlour, and when Sybil sang for him one or two simple airs--she
said they were foreign hymns, the Senator being, or being considered,
orthodox--Mr. Ratcliffe’s heart yearned toward the charming girl quite
with the sensations of a father, or even of an elder brother.

His brother senators very soon began to remark that the Prairie Giant
had acquired a trick of looking up to the ladies’ gallery. One day Mr.
Jonathan Andrews, the special correspondent of the New York Sidereal
System, a very friendly organ, approached Senator Schuyler Clinton with
a puzzled look on his face.

“Can you tell me,” said he, “what has happened to Silas P. Ratcliffe?
Only a moment ago I was talking with him at his seat on a very important
subject, about which I must send his opinions off to New York to-night,
when, in the middle of a sentence, he stopped short, got up without
looking at me, and left the Senate Chamber, and now I see him in the
gallery talking with a lady whose face I don’t know.”

Senator Clinton slowly adjusted his gold eye-glasses and looked up at
the place indicated: “Ah! Mrs. Lightfoot Lee! I think I will say a word
to her myself;” and turning his back on the special correspondent, he
skipped away with youthful agility after the Senator from Illinois.

“Devil!” muttered Mr. Andrews; “what has got into the old fools?” and in
a still less audible murmur as he looked up to Mrs. Lee, then in close
conversation with Ratcliffe: “Had I better make an item of that?”

When young Mr. Schneidekoupon called upon Senator Ratcliffe to invite
him to the dinner at Welckley’s, he found that gentleman overwhelmed
with work, as he averred, and very little disposed to converse. No! he
did not now go out to dinner. In the present condition of the public
business he found it impossible to spare the time for such amusements.
He regretted to decline Mr. Schneidekoupon’s civility, but there were
imperative reasons why he should abstain for the present from social
entertainments; he had made but one exception to his rule, and only at
the pressing request of his old friend Senator Clinton, and on a very
special occasion.

Mr. Schneidekoupon was deeply vexed--the more, he said, because he had
meant to beg Mr. and Mrs. Clinton to be of the party, as well as a very
charming lady who rarely went into society, but who had almost consented
to come.

“Who is that?” inquired the Senator.

“A Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, of New York. Probably you do not know her well
enough to admire her as I do; but I think her quite the most intelligent
woman I ever met.”

The Senator’s cold eyes rested for a moment on the young man’s open face
with a peculiar expression of distrust. Then he solemnly said, in his
deepest senatorial tones:

“My young friend, at my time of life men have other things to occupy
them than women, however intelligent they may be. Who else is to be of
your party?”

Mr. Schneidekoupon named his list.

“And for Saturday evening at seven, did you say?”

“Saturday at seven.”

“I fear there is little chance of my attending, but I will not
absolutely decline. Perhaps when the moment arrives, I may find myself
able to be there. But do not count upon me--do not count upon me. Good
day, Mr. Schneidekoupon.”

Schneidekoupon was rather a simple-minded young man, who saw no deeper
than his neighbours into the secrets of the universe, and he went off
swearing roundly at “the infernal airs these senators give themselves.”
 He told Mrs.

Lee all the conversation, as indeed he was compelled to do under penalty
of bringing her to his party under false pretences.

“Just my luck,” said he; “here I am forced to ask no end of people to
meet a man, who at the same time says he shall probably not come. Why,
under the stars, couldn’t he say, like other people, whether he was
coming or not? I’ve known dozens of senators, Mrs. Lee, and they’re all
like that. They never think of any one but themselves.”

Mrs. Lee smiled rather a forced smile, and soothed his wounded feelings;
she had no doubt the dinner would be very agreeable whether the Senator
were there or not; at any rate she would do all she could to carry it
off well, and Sybil should wear her newest dress. Still she was a little
grave, and Mr. Schneidekoupon could only declare that she was a trump;
that he had told Ratcliffe she was the cleverest woman he ever met, and
he might have added the most obliging, and Ratcliffe had only looked
at him as though he were a green ape. At all which Mrs. Lee laughed
good-naturedly, and sent him away as soon as she could.

When he was gone, she walked up and down the room and thought. She saw
the meaning of Ratcliffe’s sudden change in tone. She had no more doubt
of his coming to the dinner than she had of the reason why he came.
And was it possible that she was being drawn into something very near
a flirtation with a man twenty years her senior; a politician from
Illinois; a huge, ponderous, grey-eyed, bald senator, with a Websterian
head, who lived in Peonia? The idea was almost too absurd to be
credited; but on the whole the thing itself was rather amusing. “I
suppose senators can look out for themselves like other men,” was her
final conclusion. She thought only of his danger, and she felt a sort
of compassion for him as she reflected on the possible consequences of a
great, absorbing love at his time of life.

Her conscience was a little uneasy; but of herself she never thought.
Yet it is a historical fact that elderly senators have had a curious
fascination for young and handsome women. Had they looked out for
themselves too? And which parties most needed to be looked after?

When Madeleine and her sister arrived at Welckley’s ‘s the next Saturday
evening, they found poor Schneidekoupon in a temper very unbecoming a

“He won’t come! I told you he wouldn’t come!” said he to Madeleine, as
he handed her into the house. “If I ever turn communist, it will be for
the fun of murdering a senator.”

Madeleine consoled him gently, but he continued to use, behind Mr.
Clinton’s back, language the most offensive and improper towards the
Senate, and at last, ringing the bell, he sharply ordered the head
waiter to serve dinner.

At that very moment the door opened, and Senator Ratcliffe’s stately
figure appeared on the threshold. His eye instantly caught Madeleine’s,
and she almost laughed aloud, for she saw that the Senator was dressed
with very unsenatorial neatness; that he had actually a flower in his
burton-hole and no gloves!

After the enthusiastic description which Schneidekoupon had given of

Lee’s charms, he could do no less than ask Senator Ratcliffe to take her
in to dinner, which he did without delay. Either this, or the champagne,
or some occult influence, had an extraordinary effect upon him. He
appeared ten years younger than usual; his face was illuminated; his
eyes glowed; he seemed bent on proving his kinship to the immortal
Webster by rivalling his convivial powers. He dashed into the
conversation; laughed, jested, and ridiculed; told stories in Yankee
and Western dialect; gave sharp little sketches of amusing political

“Never was more surprised in my life,” whispered Senator Krebs, of
Pennsylvania, across the table to Schneidekoupon. “Hadn’t an idea that
Ratcliffe was so entertaining.”

And Mr. Clinton, who sat by Madeleine on the other side, whispered low
into her ear: “I am afraid, my dear Mrs. Lee, that you are responsible
for this. He never talks so to the Senate.”

Nay, he even rose to a higher flight, and told the story of President
Lincoln’s death-bed with a degree of feeling that brought tears into
their eyes. The other guests made no figure at all. The Speaker consumed
his solitary duck and his lonely champagne in a corner without giving a

Even Mr. Gore, who was not wont to hide his light under any kind of
extinguisher, made no attempt to claim the floor, and applauded with
enthusiasm the conversation of his opposite neighbour. Ill-natured
people might say that Mr. Gore saw in Senator Ratcliffe a possible
Secretary of State; be this as it may, he certainly said to Mrs.
Clinton, in an aside that was perfectly audible to every one at the
table: “How brilliant! what an original mind! what a sensation he would
make abroad!” And it was quite true, apart from the mere momentary
effect of dinner-table talk, that there was a certain bigness about
the man; a keen practical sagacity; a bold freedom of self-assertion; a
broad way of dealing with what he knew.

Carrington was the only person at table who looked on with a perfectly
cool head, and who criticised in a hostile spirit. Carrington’s
impression of Ratcliffe was perhaps beginning to be warped by a shade
of jealousy, for he was in a peculiarly bad temper this evening, and his
irritation was not wholly concealed.

“If one only had any confidence in the man!” he muttered to French, who
sat by him.

This unlucky remark set French to thinking how he could draw
Ratcliffe out, and accordingly, with his usual happy manner, combining
self-conceit and high principles, he began to attack the Senator with
some “badinaige” on the delicate subject of Civil Service Reform, a
subject almost as dangerous in political conversation at Washington as
slavery itself in old days before the war. French was a reformer, and
lost no occasion of impressing his views; but unluckily he was a very
light weight, and his manner was a little ridiculous, so that even Mrs.
Lee, who was herself a warm reformer, sometimes went over to the other
side when he talked. No sooner had he now shot his little arrow at the
Senator, than that astute man saw his opportunity, and promised himself
the pleasure of administering to Mr.

French punishment such as he knew would delight the company. Reformer
as Mrs. Lee was, and a little alarmed at the roughness of Ratcliffe’s
treatment, she could not blame the Prairie Giant, as she ought, who,
after knocking poor French down, rolled him over and over in the mud.

“Are you financier enough, Mr. French, to know what are the most famous
products of Connecticut?”

Mr. French modestly suggested that he thought its statesmen best
answered that description.

“No, sir! even there you’re wrong. The showmen beat you on your own
ground. But every child in the union knows that the most famous products
of Connecticut are Yankee notions, nutmegs made of wood and clocks that
won’t go. Now, your Civil Service Reform is just such another Yankee
notion; it’s a wooden nutmeg; it’s a clock with a show case and sham
works. And you know it! You are precisely the old-school Connecticut
peddler. You have gone about peddling your wooden nutmegs until you have
got yourself into Congress, and now you pull them out of your pockets
and not only want us to take them at your own price, but you lecture us
on our sins if we don’t. Well! we don’t mind your doing that at home.
Abuse us as much as you like to your constituents. Get as many votes as
you can. But don’t electioneer here, because we know you intimately, and
we’ve all been a little in the wooden nutmeg business ourselves.”

Senator Clinton and Senator Krebs chuckled high approval over this
punishment of poor French, which was on the level of their idea of wit.
They were all in the nutmeg business, as Ratcliffe said. The victim
tried to make head against them; he protested that his nutmegs were
genuine; he sold no goods that he did not guarantee; and that this
particular article was actually guaranteed by the national conventions
of both political parties.

“Then what you want, Mr. French, is a common school education. You
need a little study of the alphabet. Or if you won’t believe me, ask my
brother senators here what chance there is for your Reforms so long
as the American citizen is what he is.”

“You’ll not get much comfort in my State, Mr. French,” growled the
senator from Pennsylvania, with a sneer; “suppose you come and try.”

“Well, well!” said the benevolent Mr. Schuyler Clinton, gleaming
benignantly through his gold spectacles; “don’t be too hard on French.
He means well. Perhaps he’s not very wise, but he does good. I know more
about it than any of you, and I don’t deny that the thing is all bad.
Only, as Mr. Ratcliffe says, the difficulty is in the people, not in us.
Go to work on them, French, and let us alone.”

French repented of his attack, and contented himself by muttering to
Carrington: “What a set of damned old reprobates they are!”

“They are right, though, in one thing,” was Carrington’s reply: “their
advice is good. Never ask one of them to reform anything; if you do, you
will be reformed yourself.”

The dinner ended as brilliantly as it began, and Schneidekoupon was
delighted with his success. He had made himself particularly agreeable
to Sybil by confiding in her all his hopes and fears about the tariff
and the finances. When the ladies left the table, Ratcliffe could not
stay for a cigar; he must get back to his rooms, where he knew several
men were waiting for him; he would take his leave of the ladies and
hurry away. But when the gentlemen came up nearly an hour afterwards
they found Ratcliffe still taking his leave of the ladies, who were
delighted at his entertaining conversation; and when at last he really
departed, he said to Mrs. Lee, as though it were quite a matter of
course: “You are at home as usual to-morrow evening?” Madeleine smiled,
bowed, and he went his way.

As the two sisters drove home that night, Madeleine was unusually

Sybil yawned convulsively and then apologized:

“Mr. Schneidekoupon is very nice and good-natured, but a whole evening
of him goes a long way; and that horrid Senator Krebs would not say a
word, and drank a great deal too much wine, though it couldn’t make him
any more stupid than he is. I don’t think I care for senators.” Then,
wearily, after a pause: “Well, Maude, I do hope you’ve got what you
wanted. I’m sure you must have had politics enough. Haven’t you got to
the heart of your great American mystery yet?”

“Pretty near it, I think,” said Madeleine, half to herself.

Chapter IV

SUNDAY evening was stormy, and some enthusiasm was required to make one
face its perils for the sake of society. Nevertheless, a few intimates
made their appearance as usual at Mrs. Lee’s. The faithful Popoff was
there, and Miss Dare also ran in to pass an hour with her dear Sybil;
but as she passed the whole evening in a corner with Popoff, she must
have been disappointed in her object. Carrington came, and Baron Jacobi.
Schneidekoupon and his sister dined with Mrs. Lee, and remained after
dinner, while Sybil and Julia Schneidekoupon compared conclusions about
Washington society. The happy idea also occurred to Mr. Gore that,
inasmuch as Mrs. Lee’s house was but a step from his hotel, he might as
well take the chance of amusement there as the certainty of solitude
in his rooms. Finally, Senator Ratcliffe duly made his appearance, and,
having established himself with a cup of tea by Madeleine’s side, was
soon left to enjoy a quiet talk with her, the rest of the party by
common consent occupying themselves with each other. Under cover of
the murmur of conversation in the room, Mr. Ratcliffe quickly became

“I came to suggest that, if you want to hear an interesting debate,
you should come up to the Senate to-morrow. I am told that Garrard, of
Louisiana, means to attack my last speech, and I shall probably in that
case have to answer him. With you for a critic I shall speak better.”

“Am I such an amiable critic?” asked Madeleine.

“I never heard that amiable critics were the best,” said he; “justice is
the soul of good criticism, and it is only justice that I ask and expect
from you.”

“What good does this speaking do?” inquired she. “Are you any nearer the
end of your difficulties by means of your speeches?”

“I hardly know yet. Just now we are in dead water; but this can’t last
long. In fact, I am not afraid to tell you, though of course you will
not repeat it to any human being, that we have taken measures to force
an issue. Certain gentlemen, myself among the rest, have written letters
meant for the President’s eye, though not addressed directly to him, and
intended to draw out an expression of some sort that will show us what
to expect.”

“Oh!” laughed Madeleine, “I knew about that a week ago.”

“About what?”

“About your letter to Sam Grimes, of North Bend.”

“What have you heard about my letter to Sam Grimes, of North Bend?”
 ejaculated Ratcliffe, a little abruptly.

“Oh, you do not know how admirably I have organised my secret service
bureau,” said she. “Representative Cutter cross-questioned one of the
Senate pages, and obliged him to confess that he had received from you a
letter to be posted, which letter was addressed to Mr. Grimes, of North

“And, of course, he told this to French, and French told you,” said
Ratcliffe; “I see. If I had known this I would not have let French off
so gently last night, for I prefer to tell you my own story without his
embellishments. But it was my fault. I should not have trusted a page.
Nothing is a secret here long. But one thing that Mr. Cutter did not
find out was that several other gentlemen wrote letters at the same
time, for the same purpose. Your friend, Mr. Clinton, wrote; Krebs
wrote; and one or two members.”

“I suppose I must not ask what you said?”

“You may. We agreed that it was best to be very mild and conciliatory,
and to urge the President only to give us some indication of his
intentions, in order that we might not run counter to them. I drew a
strong picture of the effect of the present situation on the party, and
hinted that I had no personal wishes to gratify.”

“And what do you think will be the result?”

“I think we shall somehow manage to straighten things out,” said

“The difficulty is only that the new President has little experience,
and is suspicious. He thinks we shall intrigue to tie his hands, and he
means to tie ours in advance. I don’t know him personally, but those
who do, and who are fair judges, say that, though rather narrow and
obstinate, he is honest enough, and will come round. I have no doubt
I could settle it all with him in an hour’s talk, but it is out of the
question for me to go to him unless I am asked, and to ask me to come
would be itself a settlement.”

“What, then, is the danger you fear?”

“That he will offend all the important party leaders in order to
conciliate unimportant ones, perhaps sentimental ones, like your friend
French; that he will make foolish appointments without taking advice. By
the way, have you seen French to-day?”

“No,” replied Madeleine; “I think he must be sore at your treatment of
him last evening. You were very rude to him.”

“Not a bit,” said Ratcliffe; “these reformers need it. His attack on me
was meant for a challenge. I saw it in his manner.

“But is reform really so impossible as you describe it? Is it quite

“Reform such as he wants is utterly hopeless, and not even desirable.”

Mrs. Lee, with much earnestness of manner, still pressed her question:

“Surely something can be done to check corruption. Are we for ever to
be at the mercy of thieves and ruffians? Is a respectable government
impossible in a democracy?”

Her warmth attracted Jacobi’s attention, and he spoke across the room.
“What is that you say, Mrs. Lee? What is it about corruption?”

All the gentlemen began to listen and gather about them.

“I am asking Senator Ratcliffe,” said she, “what is to become of us if
corruption is allowed to go unchecked.”

“And may I venture to ask permission to hear Mr. Ratcliffe’s reply?”
 asked the baron.

“My reply,” said Ratcliffe, “is that no representative government can
long be much better or much worse than the society it represents. Purify
society and you purify the government. But try to purify the government
artificially and you only aggravate failure.”

“A very statesmanlike reply,” said Baron Jacobi, with a formal bow, but
his tone had a shade of mockery. Carrington, who had listened with
a darkening face, suddenly turned to the baron and asked him what
conclusion he drew from the reply.

“Ah!” exclaimed the baron, with his wickedest leer, “what for is my
conclusion good? You Americans believe yourselves to be excepted from
the operation of general laws. You care not for experience. I have lived
seventy-five years, and all that time in the midst of corruption. I am
corrupt myself, only I do have courage to proclaim it, and you others
have it not. Rome, Paris, Vienna, Petersburg, London, all are corrupt;
only Washington is pure! Well, I declare to you that in all my
experience I have found no society which has had elements of corruption
like the United States. The children in the street are corrupt, and know
how to cheat me. The cities are all corrupt, and also the towns and the
counties and the States’ legislatures and the judges. Everywhere men
betray trusts both public and private, steal money, run away with public
funds. Only in the Senate men take no money. And you gentlemen in the
Senate very well declare that your great United States, which is the
head of the civilized world, can never learn anything from the example
of corrupt Europe. You are right--quite right! The great United States
needs not an example. I do much regret that I have not yet one hundred
years to live. If I could then come back to this city, I should find
myself very content--much more than now. I am always content where there
is much corruption, and ma parole d’honneur!” broke out the old man with
fire and gesture, “the United States will then be more corrupt than Rome
under Caligula; more corrupt than the Church under Leo X.; more corrupt
than France under the Regent!”

As the baron closed his little harangue, which he delivered directly at
the senator sitting underneath him, he had the satisfaction to see that
every one was silent and listening with deep attention. He seemed to
enjoy annoying the senator, and he had the satisfaction of seeing that
the senator was visibly annoyed. Ratcliffe looked sternly at the baron
and said, with some curtness, that he saw no reason to accept such

Conversation flagged, and all except the baron were relieved when Sybil,
at Schneidekoupon’s request, sat down at the piano to sing what she
called a hymn. So soon as the song was over, Ratcliffe, who seemed to
have been curiously thrown off his balance by Jacobi’s harangue, pleaded
urgent duties at his rooms, and retired. The others soon afterwards went
off in a body, leaving only Carrington and Gore, who had seated himself
by Madeleine, and was at once dragged by her into a discussion of the
subject which perplexed her, and for the moment threw over her mind a
net of irresistible fascination.

“The baron discomfited the senator,” said Gore, with a certain

“Why did Ratcliffe let himself be trampled upon in that manner?”

“I wish you would explain why,” replied Mrs. Lee; “tell me,
Mr. Gore--you who represent cultivation and literary taste
hereabouts--please tell me what to think about Baron Jacobi’s speech.
Who and what is to be believed? Mr. Ratcliffe seems honest and wise. Is
he a corruptionist? He believes in the people, or says he does. Is he
telling the truth or not?”

Gore was too experienced in politics to be caught in such a trap as
this. He evaded the question. “Mr. Ratcliffe has a practical piece of
work to do; his business is to make laws and advise the President;
he does it extremely well. We have no other equally good practical
politician; it is unfair to require him to be a crusader besides.”

“No!” interposed Carrington, curtly; “but he need not obstruct crusades.
He need not talk virtue and oppose the punishment of vice.”

“He is a shrewd practical politician,” replied Gore, “and he feels first
the weak side of any proposed political tactics.”

With a sigh of despair Madeleine went on: “Who, then, is right? How can
we all be right? Half of our wise men declare that the world is going
straight to perdition; the other half that it is fast becoming perfect.
Both cannot be right. There is only one thing in life,” she went on,
laughing, “that I must and will have before I die. I must know whether
America is right or wrong. Just now this question is a very practical
one, for I really want to know whether to believe in Mr. Ratcliffe. If I
throw him overboard, everything must go, for he is only a specimen.”

“Why not believe in Mr. Ratcliffe?” said Gore; “I believe in him myself,
and am not afraid to say so.”

Carrington, to whom Ratcliffe now began to represent the spirit of evil,
interposed here, and observed that he imagined Mr. Gore had other
guides besides, and steadier ones than Ratcliffe, to believe in; while
Madeleine, with a certain feminine perspicacity, struck at a much weaker
point in Mr.

Gore’s armour, and asked point-blank whether he believed also in
what Ratcliffe represented: “Do you yourself think democracy the best
government, and universal suffrage a success?”

Mr. Gore saw himself pinned to the wall, and he turned at bay with
almost the energy of despair:

“These are matters about which I rarely talk in society; they are like
the doctrine of a personal God; of a future life; of revealed religion;
subjects which one naturally reserves for private reflection. But since
you ask for my political creed, you shall have it. I only condition that
it shall be for you alone, never to be repeated or quoted as mine. I
believe in democracy. I accept it. I will faithfully serve and defend
it. I believe in it because it appears to me the inevitable consequence
of what has gone before it. Democracy asserts the fact that the masses
are now raised to a higher intelligence than formerly. All our
civilisation aims at this mark. We want to do what we can to help it. I
myself want to see the result. I grant it is an experiment, but it is
the only direction society can take that is worth its taking; the only
conception of its duty large enough to satisfy its instincts; the only
result that is worth an effort or a risk. Every other possible step is
backward, and I do not care to repeat the past. I am glad to see society
grapple with issues in which no one can afford to be neutral.”

“And supposing your experiment fails,” said Mrs. Lee; “suppose society
destroys itself with universal suffrage, corruption, and communism.”

“I wish, Mrs. Lee, you would visit the Observatory with me some evening,
and look at Sirius. Did you ever make the acquaintance of a fixed star?
I believe astronomers reckon about twenty millions of them in sight, and
an infinite possibility of invisible millions, each one of which is a
sun, like ours, and may have satellites like our planet. Suppose you see
one of these fixed stars suddenly increase in brightness, and are
told that a satellite has fallen into it and is burning up, its career
finished, its capacities exhausted? Curious, is it not; but what does it
matter? Just as much as the burning up of a moth at your candle.”

Madeleine shuddered a little. “I cannot get to the height of your
philosophy,” said she. “You are wandering among the infinites, and I am

“Not at all! But I have faith; not perhaps in the old dogmas, but in the
new ones; faith in human nature; faith in science; faith in the survival
of the fittest. Let us be true to our time, Mrs. Lee! If our age is to
be beaten, let us die in the ranks. If it is to be victorious, let us be
first to lead the column. Anyway, let us not be skulkers or grumblers.
There! have I repeated my catechism correctly? You would have it! Now
oblige me by forgetting it. I should lose my character at home if it got
out. Good night!”

Mrs. Lee duly appeared at the Capitol the next day, as she could not but
do after Senator Ratcliffe’s pointed request. She went alone, for Sybil
had positively refused to go near the Capitol again, and Madeleine
thought that on the whole this was not an occasion for enrolling
Carrington in her service. But Ratcliffe did not speak. The debate was
unexpectedly postponed.

He joined Mrs. Lee in the gallery, however, sat with her as long as she
would allow, and became still more confidential, telling her that he had
received the expected reply from Grimes, of North Bend, and that it had
enclosed a letter written by the President-elect to Mr. Grimes in regard
to the advances made by Mr. Ratcliffe and his friends.

“It is not a handsome letter,” said he; “indeed, a part of it is
positively insulting. I would like to read you one extract from it, and
hear your opinion as to how it should be treated.” Taking the letter
from his pocket, he sought out the passage, and read as follows: “‘I
cannot lose sight, too, of the consideration that these three Senators’
(he means Clinton, Krebs, and me) are popularly considered to be the
most influential members of that so-called senatorial ring, which has
acquired such general notoriety. While I shall always receive their
communications with all due respect, I must continue to exercise
complete freedom of action in consulting other political advisers as
well as these, and I must in all cases make it my first object to follow
the wishes of the people, not always most truly represented by their
nominal representatives.’ What say you to that precious piece of
presidential manners?”

“At least I like his courage,” said Mrs. Lee.

“Courage is one thing; common sense is another. This letter is a studied
insult. He has knocked me off the track once. He means to do it again.
It is a declaration of war. What ought I to do?”

“Whatever is most for the public good.” said Madeleine, gravely.

Ratcliffe looked into her face with such undisguised delight--there was
so little possibility of mistaking or ignoring the expression of his
eyes, that she shrank back with a certain shock. She was not prepared
for so open a demonstration. He hardened his features at once, and went

“But what is most for the public good?”

“That you know better than I,” said Madeleine; “only one thing is clear
to me. If you let yourself be ruled by your private feelings, you will
make a greater mistake than he. Now I must go, for I have visits to
make. The next time I come, Mr. Ratcliffe, you must keep your word

When they next met, Ratcliffe read to her a part of his reply to Mr.
Grimes, which ran thus: “It is the lot of every party leader to suffer
from attacks and to commit errors. It is true, as the President says,
that I have been no exception to this law. Believing as I do that great
results can only be accomplished by great parties, I have uniformly
yielded my own personal opinions where they have failed to obtain
general assent. I shall continue to follow this course, and the
President may with perfect confidence count upon my disinterested
support of all party measures, even though I may not be consulted in
originating them.”

Mrs. Lee listened attentively, and then said: “Have you never refused to
go with your party?”

“Never!” was Ratcliffe’s firm reply.

Madeleine still more thoughtfully inquired again: “Is nothing more
powerful than party allegiance?”

“Nothing, except national allegiance,” replied Ratcliffe, still more

Chapter V

TO tie a prominent statesman to her train and to lead him about like a
tame bear, is for a young and vivacious woman a more certain amusement
than to tie herself to him and to be dragged about like an Indian
squaw. This fact was Madeleine Lee’s first great political discovery in
Washington, and it was worth to her all the German philosophy she had
ever read, with even a complete edition of Herbert Spencer’s works into
the bargain. There could be no doubt that the honours and dignities of
a public career were no fair consideration for its pains. She made a
little daily task for herself of reading in succession the lives and
letters of the American Presidents, and of their wives, when she could
find that there was a trace of the latter’s existence. What a melancholy
spectacle it was, from George Washington down to the last incumbent;
what vexations, what disappointments, what grievous mistakes, what very
objectionable manners! Not one of them, who had aimed at high purpose,
but had been thwarted, beaten, and habitually insulted! What a gloom lay
on the features of those famous chieftains, Calhoun, Clay, and Webster;
what varied expression of defeat and unsatisfied desire; what a sense
of self-importance and senatorial magniloquence; what a craving for
flattery; what despair at the sentence of fate! And what did they amount
to, after all?

They were practical men, these! they had no great problems of thought to
settle, no questions that rose above the ordinary rules of common
morals and homely duty. How they had managed to befog the subject!
What elaborate show-structures they had built up, with no result but
to obscure the horizon! Would not the country have done better without
them? Could it have done worse? What deeper abyss could have opened
under the nation’s feet, than that to whose verge they brought it?

Madeleine’s mind wearied with the monotony of the story. She discussed
the subject with Ratcliffe, who told her frankly that the pleasure of
politics lay in the possession of power. He agreed that the country
would do very well without him. “But here I am,” said he, “and here I
mean to stay.” He had very little sympathy for thin moralising, and a
statesmanlike contempt for philosophical politics. He loved power, and
he meant to be President.

That was enough.

Sometimes the tragic and sometimes the comic side was uppermost in her
mind, and sometimes she did not herself know whether to cry or to laugh.

Washington more than any other city in the world swarms with
simple-minded exhibitions of human nature; men and women curiously out
of place, whom it would be cruel to ridicule and ridiculous to weep
over. The sadder exhibitions are fortunately seldom seen by respectable
people; only the little social accidents come under their eyes. One
evening Mrs. Lee went to the President’s first evening reception. As
Sybil flatly refused to face the crowd, and Carrington mildly said that
he feared he was not sufficiently reconstructed to appear at home in
that august presence, Mrs. Lee accepted Mr. French for an escort, and
walked across the Square with him to join the throng that was pouring
into the doors of the White House. They took their places in the line
of citizens and were at last able to enter the reception-room. There
Madeleine found herself before two seemingly mechanical figures, which
might be wood or wax, for any sign they showed of life. These two
figures were the President and his wife; they stood stiff and awkward by
the door, both their faces stripped of every sign of intelligence, while
the right hands of both extended themselves to the column of visitors
with the mechanical action of toy dolls. Mrs. Lee for a moment began
to laugh, but the laugh died on her lips. To the President and his
wife this was clearly no laughing matter. There they stood, automata,
representatives of the society which streamed past them. Madeleine
seized Mr. French by the arm.

“Take me somewhere at once,” said she, “where I can look at it. Here! in
the corner. I had no conception how shocking it was!”

Mr. French supposed she was thinking of the queer-looking men and women
who were swarming through the rooms, and he made, after his own delicate
notion of humour, some uncouth jests on those who passed by. Mrs. Lee,
however, was in no humour to explain or even to listen. She stopped him

“There, Mr. French! Now go away and leave me. I want to be alone for
half an hour. Please come for me then.” And there she stood, with her
eyes fixed on the President and his wife, while the endless stream of
humanity passed them, shaking hands.

What a strange and solemn spectacle it was, and how the deadly
fascination of it burned the image in upon her mind! What a horrid
warning to ambition!

And in all that crowd there was no one besides herself who felt the
mockery of this exhibition. To all the others this task was a regular
part of the President’s duty, and there was nothing ridiculous about
it. They thought it a democratic institution, this droll a ping of
monarchical forms. To them the deadly dulness of the show was as natural
and proper as ever to the courtiers of the Philips and Charleses seemed
the ceremonies of the Escurial. To her it had the effect of a nightmare,
or of an opium-eater’s vision, She felt a sudden conviction that this
was to be the end of American society; its realisation and dream at
once. She groaned in spirit.

“Yes! at last I have reached the end! We shall grow to be wax images,
and our talk will be like the squeaking of toy dolls. We shall all
wander round and round the earth and shake hands. No one will have
any object in this world, and there will be no other. It is worse than
anything in the ‘Inferno.’ What an awful vision of eternity!”

Suddenly, as through a mist, she saw the melancholy face of Lord Skye
approaching. He came to her side, and his voice recalled her to reality.

“Does it amuse you, this sort of thing?” he asked in a vague way.

“We take our amusement sadly, after the manner of our people,” she
replied; “but it certainly interests me.”

They stood for a time in silence, watching the slowly eddying dance of
Democracy, until he resumed:

“Whom do you take that man to be--the long, lean one, with a long woman
on each arm?”

“That man,” she replied, “I take to be a Washington department-clerk, or
perhaps a member of Congress from Iowa, with a wife and wife’s sister.
Do they shock your nobility?”

He looked at her with comical resignation. “You mean to tell me
that they are quite as good as dowager-countesses. I grant it. My
aristocratic spirit is broken, Mrs. Lee. I will even ask them to dinner
if you bid me, and if you will come to meet them. But the last time I
asked a member of Congress to dine, he sent me back a note in pencil on
my own envelope that he would bring two of his friends with him, very
respectable constituents from Yahoo city, or some such place; nature’s
noblemen, he said.”

“You should have welcomed them.”

“I did. I wanted to see two of nature’s noblemen, and I knew they would
probably be pleasanter company than their representative. They came;
very respectable persons, one with a blue necktie, the other with a red
one: both had diamond pins in their shirts, and were carefully brushed
in respect to their hair. They said nothing, ate little, drank less,
and were much better behaved than I am. When they went away, they
unanimously asked me to stay with them when I visited Yahoo city.”

“You will not want guests if you always do that.”

“I don’t know. I think it was pure ignorance on their part. They knew
no better, and they seemed modest enough. My only complaint was that I
could get nothing out of them. I wonder whether their wives would have
been more amusing.”

“Would they be so in England, Lord Skye?”

He looked down at her with half-shut eyes, and drawled: “You know my

“Hardly at all.”

“Then let us discuss some less serious subject.”

“Willingly. I have waited for you to explain to me why you have to-night
an expression of such melancholy.”

“Is that quite friendly, Mrs. Lee? Do I really look melancholy?”

“Unutterably, as I feel. I am consumed with curiosity to know the

The British minister coolly took a complete survey of the whole room,
ending with a prolonged stare at the President and his wife, who were
still mechanically shaking hands; then he looked back into her face, and
said never a word.

She insisted: “I must have this riddle answered. It suffocates me. I
should not be sad at seeing these same people at work or at play, if
they ever do play; or in a church or a lecture-room. Why do they weigh
on me like a horrid phantom here?”

“I see no riddle, Mrs. Lee. You have answered your own question; they
are neither at work nor at play.”

“Then please take me home at once. I shall have hysterics. The sight of
those two suffering images at the door is too mournful to be borne. I am
dizzy with looking at these stalking figures. I don’t believe they’re
real. I wish the house would take fire. I want an earthquake. I wish
some one would pinch the President, or pull his wife’s hair.”

Mrs. Lee did not repeat the experiment of visiting the White House, and
indeed for some time afterwards she spoke with little enthusiasm of the
presidential office. To Senator Ratcliffe she expressed her opinions
strongly. The Senator tried in vain to argue that the people had a right
to call upon their chief magistrate, and that he was bound to receive
them; this being so, there was no less objectionable way of proceeding
than the one which had been chosen. “Who gave the people any such
right?” asked Mrs. Lee. “Where does it come from? What do they want it
for? You know better, Mr. Ratcliffe! Our chief magistrate is a citizen
like any one else. What puts it into his foolish head to cease being a
citizen and to ape royalty? Our governors never make themselves
ridiculous. Why cannot the wretched being content himself with living
like the rest of us, and minding his own business? Does he know what a
figure of fun he is?” And Mrs. Lee went so far as to declare that she
would like to be the President’s wife only to put an end to this folly;
nothing should ever induce her to go through such a performance; and if
the public did not approve of this, Congress might impeach her, and
remove her from office; all she demanded was the right to be heard
before the Senate in her own defence.

Nevertheless, there was a very general impression in Washington that

Lee would like nothing better than to be in the White House. Known
to comparatively few people, and rarely discussing even with them the
subjects which deeply interested her, Madeleine passed for a clever,
intriguing woman who had her own objects to gain. True it is, beyond
peradventure, that all residents of Washington may be assumed to be in
office or candidates for office; unless they avow their object, they are
guilty of an attempt--and a stupid one--to deceive; yet there is a small
class of apparent exceptions destined at last to fall within the rule.
Mrs. Lee was properly assumed to be a candidate for office. To the
Washingtonians it was a matter of course that Mrs. Lee should marry
Silas P. Ratcliffe. That he should be glad to get a fashionable and
intelligent wife, with twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year, was not
surprising. That she should accept the first public man of the day, with
a flattering chance for the Presidency--a man still comparatively
young and not without good looks--was perfectly natural, and in her
undertaking she had the sympathy of all well-regulated Washington women
who were not possible rivals; for to them the President’s wife is of
more consequence than the President; and, indeed, if America only knew
it, they are not very far from the truth.

Some there were, however, who did not assent to this good-natured though
worldly view of the proposed match. These ladies were severe in their
comments upon Mrs. Lee’s conduct, and did not hesitate to declare their
opinion that she was the calmest and most ambitious minx who had ever
come within their observation. Unfortunately it happened that the
respectable and proper Mrs. Schuyler Clinton took this view of the case,
and made little attempt to conceal her opinion. She was justly indignant
at her cousin’s gross worldliness, and possible promotion in rank.

“If Madeleine Ross marries that coarse, horrid old Illinois politician,”
 said she to her husband, “I never will forgive her so long as I live.”

Mr. Clinton tried to excuse Madeleine, and even went so far as to
suggest that the difference of age was no greater than in their own
case; but his wife trampled ruthlessly on his argument.

“At any rate,” said she, “I never came to Washington as a widow on
purpose to set my cap for the first candidate for the Presidency, and
I never made a public spectacle of my indecent eagerness in the very
galleries of the Senate; and Mrs. Lee ought to be ashamed of herself.
She is a cold-blooded, heartless, unfeminine cat.”

Little Victoria Dare, who babbled like the winds and streams, with utter
indifference as to what she said or whom she addressed, used to bring
choice bits of this gossip to Mrs. Lee. She always affected a little
stammer when she said anything uncommonly impudent, and put on a manner
of languid simplicity. She felt keenly the satisfaction of seeing
Madeleine charged with her own besetting sins. For years all Washington
had agreed that Victoria was little better than one of the wicked; she
had done nothing but violate every rule of propriety and scandalise
every well-regulated family in the city, and there was no good in her.
Yet it could not be denied that Victoria was amusing, and had a sort of
irregular fascination; consequently she was universally tolerated. To
see Mrs. Lee thrust down to her own level was an unmixed pleasure to
her, and she carefully repeated to Madeleine the choice bits of dialogue
which she picked up in her wanderings.

“Your cousin, Mrs. Clinton, says you are a ca-ca-cat, Mrs. Lee.”

“I don’t believe it, Victoria. Mrs. Clinton never said anything of the

“Mrs. Marston says it is because you have caught a ra-ra-rat, and
Senator Clinton was only a m-m-mouse!”

Naturally all this unexpected publicity irritated Mrs. Lee not a little,
especially when short and vague paragraphs, soon followed by longer
and more positive ones, in regard to Senator Ratcliffe’s matrimonial
prospects, began to appear in newspapers, along with descriptions of
herself from the pens of enterprising female correspondents for the
press, who had never so much as seen her. At the first sight of one of
these newspaper articles, Madeleine fairly cried with mortification and
anger. She wanted to leave Washington the next day, and she hated the
very thought of Ratcliffe. There was something in the newspaper style so
inscrutably vulgar, something so inexplicably revolting to the sense of
feminine decency, that she shrank under it as though it were a poisonous
spider. But after the first acute shame had passed, her temper was
roused, and she vowed that she would pursue her own path just as she
had begun, without regard to all the malignity and vulgarity in the wide
United States. She did not care to marry Senator Ratcliffe; she liked
his society and was flattered by his confidence; she rather hoped to
prevent him from ever making a formal offer, and if not, she would at
least push it off to the last possible moment; but she was not to be
frightened from marrying him by any amount of spitefulness or gossip,
and she did not mean to refuse him except for stronger reasons than
these. She even went so far in her desperate courage as to laugh at her
cousin, Mrs.

Clinton, whose venerable husband she allowed and even encouraged to pay
her such public attention and to express sentiments of such youthful
ardour as she well knew would inflame and exasperate the excellent lady
his wife.

Carrington was the person most unpleasantly affected by the course which
this affair had taken. He could no longer conceal from himself the fact
that he was as much m love as a dignified Virginian could be. With
him, at all events, she had shown no coquetry, nor had she ever either
flattered or encouraged him. But Carrington, m his solitary struggle
against fate, had found her a warm friend; always ready to assist where
assistance was needed, generous with her money in any cause which he
was willing to vouch for, full of sympathy where sympathy was more than
money, and full of resource and suggestion where money and sympathy
failed. Carrington knew her better than she knew herself. He selected
her books; he brought the last speech or the last report from the
Capitol or the departments; he knew her doubts and her vagaries, and as
far as he understood them at all, helped her to solve them.

Carrington was too modest, and perhaps too shy, to act the part of a
declared lover, and he was too proud to let it be thought that he wanted
to exchange his poverty for her wealth. But he was all the more anxious
when he saw the evident attraction which Ratcliffe’s strong will and
unscrupulous energy exercised over her. He saw that Ratcliffe was
steadily pushing his advances; that he flattered all Mrs. Lee’s
weaknesses by the confidence and deference with which he treated her;
and that in a very short time, Madeleine must either marry him or find
herself looked upon as a heartless coquette. He had his own reasons for
thinking ill of Senator Ratcliffe, and he meant to prevent a marriage;
but he had an enemy to deal with not easily driven from the path, and
quite capable of routing any number of rivals.

Ratcliffe was afraid of no one. He had not fought his own way in
life for nothing, and he knew all the value of a cold head and dogged

Nothing but this robust Americanism and his strong will carried him
safely through the snares and pitfalls of Mrs. Lee’s society, where
rivals and enemies beset him on every hand. He was little better than a
schoolboy, when he ventured on their ground, but when he could draw
them over upon his own territory of practical life he rarely failed to
trample on his assailants.

It was this practical sense and cool will that won over Mrs. Lee, who
was woman enough to assume that all the graces were well enough
employed in decorating her, and it was enough if the other sex felt her
superiority. Men were valuable only in proportion to their strength and
their appreciation of women. If the senator had only been strong enough
always to control his temper, he would have done very well, but his
temper was under a great strain in these times, and his incessant effort
to control it in politics made him less watchful in private life.
Mrs. Lee’s tacit assumption of superior refinement irritated him,
and sometimes made him show his teeth like a bull-dog, at the cost of
receiving from Mrs. Lee a quick stroke in return such as a well-bred
tortoise-shell cat administers to check over-familiarity; innocent to
the eye, but drawing blood. One evening when he was more than commonly
out of sorts, after sitting some time in moody silence, he roused
himself, and, taking up a book that lay on her table, he glanced at its
title and turned over the leaves. It happened by ill luck to be a volume
of Darwin that Mrs. Lee had just borrowed from the library of Congress.

“Do you understand this sort of thing?” asked the Senator abruptly, in a
tone that suggested a sneer.

“Not very well,” replied Mrs. Lee, rather curtly.

“Why do you want to understand it?” persisted the Senator. “What good
will it do you?”

“Perhaps it will teach us to be modest,” answered Madeleine, quite equal
to the occasion.

“Because it says we descend from monkeys?” rejoined the Senator,

“Do you think you are descended from monkeys?”

“Why not?” said Madeleine.

“Why not?” repeated Ratcliffe, laughing harshly. “I don’t like the
connection. Do you mean to introduce your distant relations into

“They would bring more amusement into it than most of its present
members,” rejoined Mrs. Lee, with a gentle smile that threatened
mischief. But Ratcliffe would not be warned; on the contrary, the only
effect of Mrs. Lee’s defiance was to exasperate his ill-temper, and
whenever he lost his temper he became senatorial and Websterian. “Such
books,” he began, “disgrace our civilization; they degrade and stultify
our divine nature; they are only suited for Asiatic despotisms where men
are reduced to the level of brutes; that they should be accepted by a
man like Baron Jacobi, I can understand; he and his masters have nothing
to do in the world but to trample on human rights. Mr. Carrington, of
course, would approve those ideas; he believes in the divine doctrine
of flogging negroes; but that you, who profess philanthropy and free
principles, should go with them, is astonishing; it is incredible; it is
unworthy of you.”

“You are very hard on the monkeys,” replied Madeleine, rather sternly,
when the Senator’s oration was ended. “The monkeys never did you any
harm; they are not in public life; they are not even voters; if they
were, you would be enthusiastic about their intelligence and virtue.
After all, we ought to be grateful to them, for what would men do
in this melancholy world if they had not inherited gaiety from the
monkeys--as well as oratory.”

Ratcliffe, to do him justice, took punishment well, at least when
it came from Mrs. Lee’s hands, and his occasional outbursts of
insubordination were sure to be followed by improved discipline; but if
he allowed Mrs. Lee to correct his faults, he had no notion of letting
himself be instructed by her friends, and he lost no chance of telling
them so. But to do this was not always enough. Whether it were that he
had few ideas outside of his own experience, or that he would not
trust himself on doubtful ground, he seemed compelled to bring every
discussion down to his own level. Madeleine puzzled herself in vain to
find out whether he did this because he knew no better, or because he
meant to cover his own ignorance.

“The Baron has amused me very much with his account of Bucharest
society,” Mrs. Lee would say: “I had no idea it was so gay.”

“I would like to show him our society in Peonia,” was Ratcliffe’s reply;
“he would find a very brilliant circle there of nature’s true noblemen.”

“The Baron says their politicians are precious sharp chaps,” added Mr.


“Oh, there are politicians in Bulgaria, are there?” asked the Senator,
whose ideas of the Roumanian and Bulgarian neighbourhood were vague,
and who had a general notion that all such people lived in tents,
wore sheepskins with the wool inside, and ate curds: “Oh, they have
politicians there! I would like to see them try their sharpness in the

“Really!” said Mrs. Lee. “Think of Attila and his hordes running an
Indiana caucus?”

“Anyhow,” cried French with a loud laugh, “the Baron said that a set of
bigger political scoundrels than his friends couldn’t be found in all

“Did he say that?” exclaimed Ratcliffe angrily.

“Didn’t he, Mrs. Lee? but I don’t believe it; do you? What’s your candid
opinion, Ratcliffe? What you don’t know about Illinois politics isn’t
worth knowing; do you really think those Bulgrascals couldn’t run an
Illinois state convention?”

Ratcliffe did not like to be chaffed, especially on this subject, but he
could not resent French’s liberty which was only a moderate return
for the wooden nutmeg. To get the conversation away from Europe, from
literature, from art, was his great object, and chaff was a way of

Carrington was very well aware that the weak side of the Senator lay in
his blind ignorance of morals. He flattered himself that Mrs. Lee must
see this and be shocked by it sooner or later, so that nothing more was
necessary than to let Ratcliffe expose himself. Without talking very
much, Carrington always aimed at drawing him out. He soon found,
however, that Ratcliffe understood such tactics perfectly, and instead
of injuring, he rather improved his position. At times the man’s
audacity was startling, and even when Carrington thought him hopelessly
entangled, he would sweep away all the hunter’s nets with a sheer effort
of strength, and walk off bolder and more dangerous than ever.

When Mrs. Lee pressed him too closely, he frankly admitted her charges.

“What you say is in great part true. There is much in politics that
disgusts and disheartens; much that is coarse and bad. I grant you there
is dishonesty and corruption. We must try to make the amount as small as

“You should be able to tell Mrs. Lee how she must go to work,” said
Carrington; “you have had experience. I have heard, it seems to me, that
you were once driven to very hard measures against corruption.”

Ratcliffe looked ill-pleased at this compliment, and gave Carrington one
of his cold glances that meant mischief. But he took up the challenge on
the spot:--

“Yes, I was, and am very sorry for it. The story is this, Mrs. Lee;
and it is well-known to every man, woman, and child in the State of
Illinois, so that I have no reason for softening it. In the worst days
of the war there was almost a certainty that my State would be carried
by the peace party, by fraud, as we thought, although, fraud or not, we
were bound to save it. Had Illinois been lost then, we should certainly
have lost the Presidential election, and with it probably the Union. At
any rate, I believed the fate of the war to depend on the result. I
was then Governor, and upon me the responsibility rested. We had entire
control of the northern counties and of their returns. We ordered the
returning officers in a certain number of counties to make no returns
until they heard from us, and when we had received the votes of all the
southern counties and learned the precise number of votes we needed to
give us a majority, we telegraphed to our northern returning officers
to make the vote of their districts such and such, thereby overbalancing
the adverse returns and giving the State to us. This was done, and as I
am now senator I have a right to suppose that what I did was approved. I
am not proud of the transaction, but I would do it again, and worse than
that, if I thought it would save this country from disunion. But of
course I did not expect Mr. Carrington to approve it. I believe he was
then carrying out his reform principles by bearing arms against the

“Yes!” said Carrington drily; “you got the better of me, too. Like the
old Scotchman, you didn’t care who made the people’s wars provided you
made its ballots.”

Carrington had missed his point. The man who has committed a murder for
his country, is a patriot and not an assassin, even when he receives a
seat in the Senate as his share of the plunder. Women cannot be expected
to go behind the motives of that patriot who saves his country and his
election in times of revolution.

Carrington’s hostility to Ratcliffe was, however, mild, when compared
with that felt by old Baron Jacobi. Why the baron should have taken so
violent a prejudice it is not easy to explain, but a diplomatist and a
senator are natural enemies, and Jacobi, as an avowed admirer of
Mrs. Lee, found Ratcliffe in his way. This prejudiced and immoral old
diplomatist despised and loathed an American senator as the type
which, to his bleared European eyes, combined the utmost pragmatical
self-assurance and overbearing temper with the narrowest education and
the meanest personal experience that ever existed in any considerable
government. As Baron Jacobi’s country had no special relations with that
of the United States, and its Legation at Washington was a mere job to
create a place for Jacobi to fill, he had no occasion to disguise his
personal antipathies, and he considered himself in some degree as having
a mission to express that diplomatic contempt for the Senate which his
colleagues, if they felt it, were obliged to conceal. He performed his
duties with conscientious precision. He never missed an opportunity to
thrust the sharp point of his dialectic rapier through the joints of the
clumsy and hide-bound senatorial self-esteem. He delighted in skilfully
exposing to Madeleine’s eyes some new side of Ratcliffe’s ignorance.
His conversation at such times sparkled with historical allusions,
quotations in half a dozen different languages, references to well-known
facts which an old man’s memory could not recall with precision in all
their details, but with which the Honourable Senator was familiarly
acquainted, and which he could readily supply. And his Voltairian
face leered politely as he listened to Ratcliffe’s reply, which showed
invariable ignorance of common literature, art, and history. The climax
of his triumph came one evening when Ratcliffe unluckily, tempted by
some allusion to Molière which he thought he understood, made reference
to the unfortunate influence of that great man on the religious opinions
of his time. Jacobi, by a flash of inspiration, divined that he had
confused Molière with Voltaire, and assuming a manner of extreme
suavity, he put his victim on the rack, and tortured him with affected
explanations and interrogations, until Madeleine was in a manner forced
to interrupt and end the scene. But even when the senator was not to be
lured into a trap, he could not escape assault. The baron in such a
case would cross the lines and attack him on his own ground, as on one
occasion, when Ratcliffe was defending his doctrine of party allegiance,
Jacobi silenced him by sneering somewhat thus:

“Your principle is quite correct, Mr. Senator. I, too, like yourself,
was once a good party man: my party was that of the Church; I was
ultramontane. Your party system is one of your thefts from our Church;
your National Convention is our OEcumenic Council; you abdicate reason,
as we do, before its decisions; and you yourself, Mr. Ratcliffe, you are
a Cardinal. They are able men, those cardinals; I have known many; they
were our best friends, but they were not reformers. Are you a reformer,
Mr. Senator?”

Ratcliffe grew to dread and hate the old man, but all his ordinary
tactics were powerless against this impenetrable eighteenth century
cynic. If he resorted to his Congressional practise of browbeating
and dogmatism, the Baron only smiled and turned his back, or made some
remark in French which galled his enemy all the more, because, while
he did not understand it, he knew well that Madeleine did, and that she
tried to repress her smile.

Ratcliffe’s grey eyes grew colder and stonier than ever as he gradually
perceived that Baron Jacobi was carrying on a set scheme with malignant
ingenuity, to drive him out of Madeleine’s house, and he swore
a terrible oath that he would not be beaten by that monkey-faced
foreigner. On the other hand Jacobi had little hope of success: “What
can an old man do?” said he with perfect sincerity to Carrington; “If
I were forty years younger, that great oaf should not have his own way.
Ah! I wish I were young again and we were in Vienna!” From which it was
rightly inferred by Carrington that the venerable diplomatist would, if
such acts were still in fashion, have coolly insulted the Senator, and
put a bullet through his heart.

Chapter VI

IN February the weather became warmer and summer-like. In Virginia there
comes often at this season a deceptive gleam of summer, slipping in
between heavy storm-clouds of sleet and snow; days and sometimes weeks
when the temperature is like June; when the earliest plants begin to
show their hardy flowers, and when the bare branches of the forest trees
alone protest against the conduct of the seasons. Then men and women are
languid; life seems, as in Italy, sensuous and glowing with colour; one
is conscious of walking in an atmosphere that is warm, palpable, radiant
with possibilities; a delicate haze hangs over Arlington, and softens
even the harsh white glare of the Capitol; the struggle of existence
seems to abate; Lent throws its calm shadow over society; and youthful
diplomatists, unconscious of their danger, are lured into asking foolish
girls to marry them; the blood thaws in the heart and flows out into the
veins, like the rills of sparkling water that trickle from every lump
of ice or snow, as though all the ice and snow on earth, and all the
hardness of heart, all the heresy and schism, all the works of the
devil, had yielded to the force of love and to the fresh warmth of
innocent, lamb-like, confiding virtue. In such a world there should be
no guile--but there is a great deal of it notwithstanding. Indeed, at
no other season is there so much. This is the moment when the two whited
sepulchres at either end of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of
bargain and sale. The old is going; the new is coming. Wealth, office,
power are at auction. Who bids highest? who hates with most venom? who
intrigues with most skill? who has done the dirtiest, the meanest, the
darkest, and the most, political work? He shall have his reward.

Senator Ratcliffe was absorbed and ill at ease. A swarm of applicants
for office dogged his steps and beleaguered his rooms in quest of his
endorsement of their paper characters. The new President was to arrive
on Monday. Intrigues and combinations, of which the Senator was the
soul, were all alive, awaiting this arrival. Newspaper correspondents
pestered him with questions. Brother senators called him to conferences.
His mind was pre-occupied with his own interests. One might have
supposed that, at this instant, nothing could have drawn him away from
the political gaming-table, and yet when Mrs. Lee remarked that she was
going to Mount Vernon on Saturday with a little party, including the
British Minister and an Irish gentleman staying as a guest at the
British Legation, the Senator surprised her by expressing a strong wish
to join them. He explained that, as the political lead was no longer
in his hands, the chances were nine in ten that if he stirred at all
he should make a blunder; that his friends expected him to do something
when, in fact, nothing could be done; that every preparation had already
been made, and that for him to go on an excursion to Mount Vernon, at
this moment, with the British Minister, was, on the whole, about the
best use he could make of his time, since it would hide him for one day
at least.

Lord Skye had fallen into the habit of consulting Mrs. Lee when his own
social resources were low, and it was she who had suggested this party
to Mount Vernon, with Carrington for a guide and Mr. Gore for variety,
to occupy the time of the Irish friend whom Lord Skye was bravely

This gentleman, who bore the title of Dunbeg, was a dilapidated peer,
neither wealthy nor famous. Lord Skye brought him to call on Mrs. Lee,
and in some sort put him under her care. He was young, not ill-looking,
quite intelligent, rather too fond of facts, and not quick at humour.
He was given to smiling in a deprecatory way, and when he talked, he
was either absent or excited; he made vague blunders, and then smiled
in deprecation of offence, or his words blocked their own path in their
rush. Perhaps his manner was a little ridiculous, but he had a good
heart, a good head, and a title. He found favour in the eyes of Sybil
and Victoria Dare, who declined to admit other women to the party,
although they offered no objection to Mr.

Ratcliffe’s admission. As for Lord Dunbeg, he was an enthusiastic
admirer of General Washington, and, as he privately intimated, eager to
study phases of American society. He was delighted to go with a small
party, and Miss Dare secretly promised herself that she would show him a

The morning was warm, the sky soft, the little steamer lay at the quiet
wharf with a few negroes lazily watching her preparations for departure.

Carrington, with Mrs. Lee and the young ladies, arrived first, and stood
leaning against the rail, waiting the arrival of their companions. Then
came Mr. Gore, neatly attired and gloved, with a light spring overcoat;
for Mr.

Gore was very careful of his personal appearance, and not a little vain
of his good looks. Then a pretty woman, with blue eyes and blonde hair,
dressed in black, and leading a little girl by the hand, came on board,
and Carrington went to shake hands with her. On his return to Mrs. Lee’s
side, she asked about his new acquaintance, and he replied with a
half-laugh, as though he were not proud of her, that she was a client,
a pretty widow, well known in Washington. “Any one at the Capitol would
tell you all about her. She was the wife of a noted lobbyist, who died
about two years ago. Congressmen can refuse nothing to a pretty face,
and she was their idea of feminine perfection. Yet she is a silly little
woman, too. Her husband died after a very short illness, and, to my
great surprise, made me executor under his will. I think he had an idea
that he could trust me with his papers, which were important and
compromising, for he seems to have had no time to go over them and
destroy what were best out of the way. So, you see, I am left with his
widow and child to look after. Luckily, they are well provided for.”

“Still you have not told me her name.”

“Her name is Baker--Mrs. Sam Baker. But they are casting off, and Mr.
Ratcliffe will be left behind. I’ll ask the captain to wait.” About a
dozen passengers had arrived, among them the two Earls, with a footman
carrying a promising lunch-basket, and the planks were actually hauled
in when a carriage dashed up to the wharf, and Mr. Ratcliffe leaped out
and hurried on board. “Off with you as quick as you can!” said he to
the negro-hands, and in another moment the little steamer had begun her
journey, pounding the muddy waters of the Potomac and sending up its
small column of smoke as though it were a newly invented incense-burner
approaching the temple of the national deity. Ratcliffe explained in
great glee how he had barely managed to escape his visitors by telling
them that the British Minister was waiting for him, and that he would
be back again presently. “If they had known where I was going,” said
he, “you would have seen the boat swamped with office-seekers. Illinois
alone would have brought you to a watery grave.” He was in high spirits,
bent upon enjoying his holiday, and as they passed the arsenal with
its solitary sentry, and the navy-yard, with its one unseaworthy wooden
war-steamer, he pointed out these evidences of national grandeur to Lord
Skye, threatening, as the last terror of diplomacy, to send him home in
an American frigate. They were thus indulging in senatorial humour on
one side of the boat, while Sybil and Victoria, with the aid of Mr. Gore
and Carrington, were improving Lord Dunbeg’s mind on the other.

Miss Dare, finding for herself at last a convenient seat where she could
repose and be mistress of the situation, put on a more than usually
demure expression and waited with gravity until her noble neighbour
should give her an opportunity to show those powers which, as she
believed, would supply a phase in his existence. Miss Dare was one of
those young persons, sometimes to be found in America, who seem to have
no object in life, and while apparently devoted to men, care nothing
about them, but find happiness only in violating rules; she made no
parade of whatever virtues she had, and her chief pleasure was to make
fun of all the world and herself.

“What a noble river!” remarked Lord Dunbeg, as the boat passed out upon
the wide stream; “I suppose you often sail on it?”

“I never was here in my life till now,” replied the untruthful Miss
Dare; “we don’t think much of it; it s too small; we’re used to so much
larger rivers.”

“I am afraid you would not like our English rivers then; they are mere
brooks compared with this.”

“Are they indeed?” said Victoria, with an appearance of vague surprise;
“how curious! I don’t think I care to be an Englishwoman then. I could
not live without big rivers.”

Lord Dunbeg stared, and hinted that this was almost unreasonable.

“Unless I were a Countess!” continued Victoria, meditatively, looking
at Alexandria, and paying no attention to his lordship; “I think I could
manage if I were a C-c-countess. It is such a pretty title!”

“Duchess is commonly thought a prettier one,” stammered Dunbeg, much
embarrassed. The young man was not used to chaff from women.

“I should be satisfied with Countess. It sounds well. I am surprised
that you don’t like it.” Dunbeg looked about him uneasily for some means
of escape but he was barred in. “I should think you would feel an awful
responsibility in selecting a Countess. How do you do it?”

Lord Dunbeg nervously joined in the general laughter as Sybil

“Oh, Victoria!” but Miss Dare continued without a smile or any elevation
of her monotonous voice:

“Now, Sybil, don’t interrupt me, please. I am deeply interested in Lord
Dunbeg’s conversation. He understands that my interest is purely
scientific, but my happiness requires that I should know how Countesses
are selected. Lord Dunbeg, how would you recommend a friend to choose a

Lord Dunbeg began to be amused by her impudence, and he even tried to
lay down for her satisfaction one or two rules for selecting Countesses,
but long before he had invented his first rule, Victoria had darted off
to a new subject.

“Which would you rather be, Lord Dunbeg? an Earl or George Washington?”

“George Washington, certainly,” was the Earl’s courteous though rather
bewildered reply.

“Really?” she asked with a languid affectation of surprise; “it is
awfully kind of you to say so, but of course you can’t mean it.

“Indeed I do mean it.”

“Is it possible? I never should have thought it.”

“Why not, Miss Dare?”

“You have not the air of wishing to be George Washington.”

“May I again ask, why not?”

“Certainly. Did you ever see George Washington?”

“Of course not. He died fifty years before I was born.”

“I thought so. You see you don’t know him. Now, will you give us an idea
of what you imagine General Washington to have looked like?”

Dunbeg gave accordingly a flattering description of General Washington,
compounded of Stuart’s portrait and Greenough’s statue of Olympian Jove
with Washington’s features, in the Capitol Square. Miss Dare listened
with an expression of superiority not unmixed with patience, and then
she enlightened him as follows:

“All you have been saying is perfect stuff--excuse the vulgarity of the
expression. When I am a Countess I will correct my language. The
truth is that General Washington was a raw-boned country farmer, very
hard-featured, very awkward, very illiterate and very dull; very bad
tempered, very profane, and generally tipsy after dinner.”

“You shock me, Miss Dare!” exclaimed Dunbeg.

“Oh! I know all about General Washington. My grandfather knew him
intimately, and often stayed at Mount Vernon for weeks together. You
must not believe what you read, and not a word of what Mr. Carrington
will say. He is a Virginian and will tell you no end of fine stories and
not a syllable of truth in one of them. We are all patriotic about
Washington and like to hide his faults. If I weren’t quite sure you
would never repeat it, I would not tell you this. The truth is that even
when George Washington was a small boy, his temper was so violent that
no one could do anything with him. He once cut down all his father’s
fruit-trees in a fit of passion, and then, just because they wanted to
flog him, he threatened to brain his father with the hatchet. His aged
wife suffered agonies from him. My grandfather often told me how he had
seen the General pinch and swear at her till the poor creature left the
room in tears; and how once at Mount Vernon he saw Washington, when
quite an old man, suddenly rush at an unoffending visitor, and chase him
off the place, beating him all the time over the head with a great stick
with knots in it, and all just because he heard the poor man stammer; he
never could abide s-s-stammering.”

Carrington and Gore burst into shouts of laughter over this description
of the Father of his country, but Victoria continued in her gentle drawl
to enlighten Lord Dunbeg in regard to other subjects with information
equally mendacious, until he decided that she was quite the most
eccentric person he had ever met. The boat arrived at Mount Vernon while
she was still engaged in a description of the society and manners of
America, and especially of the rules which made an offer of marriage
necessary. According to her, Lord Dunbeg was in imminent peril;
gentlemen, and especially foreigners, were expected, in all the States
south of the Potomac, to offer themselves to at least one young lady in
every city: “and I had only yesterday,” said Victoria, “a letter from a
lovely girl in North Carolina, a dear friend of mine, who wrote me that
she was right put out because her brothers had called on a young English
visitor with shot guns, and she was afraid he wouldn’t recover, and,
after all, she says she should have refused him.”

Meanwhile Madeleine, on the other side of the boat, undisturbed by the
laughter that surrounded Miss Dare, chatted soberly and seriously with
Lord Skye and Senator Ratcliffe. Lord Skye, too, a little intoxicated
by the brilliancy of the morning, broke out into admiration of the noble
river, and accused Americans of not appreciating the beauties of their
own country.

“Your national mind,” said he, “has no eyelids. It requires a broad
glare and a beaten road. It prefers shadows which you can cut out with a
knife. It doesn’t know the beauty of this Virginia winter softness.”

Mrs. Lee resented the charge. America, she maintained, had not worn her
feelings threadbare like Europe. She had still her story to tell; she
was waiting for her Burns and Scott, her Wordsworth and Byron, her
Hogarth and Turner. “You want peaches in spring,” said she. “Give us
our thousand years of summer, and then complain, if you please, that our
peach is not as mellow as yours. Even our voices may be soft then,” she
added, with a significant look at Lord Skye.

“We are at a disadvantage in arguing with Mrs. Lee,” said he to
Ratcliffe; “when she ends as counsel, she begins as witness. The famous
Duchess of Devonshire’s lips were not half as convincing as Mrs. Lee’s

Ratcliffe listened carefully, assenting whenever he saw that Mrs. Lee
wished it. He wished he understood precisely what tones and half-tones,
colours and harmonies, were.

They arrived and strolled up the sunny path. At the tomb they halted,
as all good Americans do, and Mr. Gore, in a tone of subdued sorrow,
delivered a short address--

“It might be much worse if they improved it,” he said, surveying its
proportions with the æsthetic eye of a cultured Bostonian. “As it
stands, this tomb is a simple misfortune which might befall any of us;
we should not grieve over it too much. What would our feelings be if
a Congressional committee reconstructed it of white marble with Gothic
pepper-pots, and gilded it inside on machine-moulded stucco!”

Madeleine, however, insisted that the tomb, as it stood, was the only
restless spot about the quiet landscape, and that it contradicted all
her ideas about repose in the grave. Ratcliffe wondered what she meant.

They passed on, wandering across the lawn, and through the house. Their
eyes, weary of the harsh colours and forms of the city, took pleasure in
the worn wainscots and the stained walls. Some of the rooms were still
occupied; fires were burning in the wide fire-places. All were tolerably
furnished, and there was no uncomfortable sense of repair or newness.
They mounted the stairs, and Mrs. Lee fairly laughed when she was shown
the room in which General Washington slept, and where he died.

Carrington smiled too. “Our old Virginia houses were mostly like this,”
 said he; “suites of great halls below, and these gaunt barracks above.
The Virginia house was a sort of hotel. When there was a race or a
wedding, or a dance, and the house was full, they thought nothing of
packing half a dozen people in one room, and if the room was large, they
stretched a sheet a cross to separate the men from the women. As for
toilet, those were not the mornings of cold baths. With our ancestors a
little washing went a long way.”

“Do you still live so in Virginia?” asked Madeleine.

“Oh no, it is quite gone. We live now like other country people, and try
to pay our debts, which that generation never did. They lived from hand
to mouth. They kept a stable-full of horses. The young men were always
riding about the country, betting on horse-races, gambling, drinking,
fighting, and making love. No one knew exactly what he was worth until
the crash came about fifty years ago, and the whole thing ran out.”

“Just what happened in Ireland!” said Lord Dunbeg, much interested and
full of his article in the Quarterly; “the resemblance is perfect, even
down to the houses.”

Mrs. Lee asked Carrington bluntly whether he regretted the destruction
of this old social arrangement.

“One can’t help regretting,” said he, “whatever it was that produced
George Washington, and a crowd of other men like him. But I think we
might produce the men still if we had the same field for them.”

“And would you bring the old society back again if you could?” asked

“What for? It could not hold itself up. General Washington himself could
not save it. Before he died he had lost his hold on Virginia, and his
power was gone.”

The party for a while separated, and Mrs. Lee found herself alone in the
great drawing-room. Presently the blonde Mrs. Baker entered, with her
child, who ran about making more noise than Mrs. Washington would have

Madeleine, who had the usual feminine love of children, called the girl
to her and pointed out the shepherds and shepherdesses carved on the
white Italian marble of the fireplace; she invented a little story
about them to amuse the child, while the mother stood by and at the end
thanked the story-teller with more enthusiasm than seemed called for.
Mrs. Lee did not fancy her effusive manner, or her complexion, and was
glad when Dunbeg appeared at the doorway.

“How do you like General Washington at home?” asked she.

“Really, I assure you I feel quite at home myself,” replied Dunbeg, with
a more beaming smile than ever. “I am sure General Washington was an
Irishman. I know it from the look of the place. I mean to look it up and
write an article about it.”

“Then if you have disposed of him,” said Madeleine, “I think we will
have luncheon, and I have taken the liberty to order it to be served

There a table had been improvised, and Miss Dare was inspecting the
lunch, and making comments upon Lord Skye’s cuisine and cellar.

“I hope it is very dry champagne,” said she, “the taste for sweet
champagne is quite awfully shocking.”

The young woman knew no more about dry and sweet champagne than of the
wine of Ulysses, except that she drank both with equal satisfaction, but
she was mimicking a Secretary of the British Legation who had provided
her with supper at her last evening party. Lord Skye begged her to try
it, which she did, and with great gravity remarked that it was about
five per cent. she presumed. This, too, was caught from her Secretary,
though she knew no more what it meant than if she had been a parrot.

The luncheon was very lively and very good. When it was over, the
gentlemen were allowed to smoke, and conversation fell into a sober
strain, which at last threatened to become serious.

“You want half-tones!” said Madeleine to Lord Skye: “are there not
half-tones enough to suit you on the walls of this house?”

Lord Skye suggested that this was probably owing to the fact that
Washington, belonging, as he did, to the universe, was in his taste an
exception to local rules.

“Is not the sense of rest here captivating?” she continued. “Look at
that quaint garden, and this ragged lawn, and the great river in front,
and the superannuated fort beyond the river! Everything is peaceful,
even down to the poor old General’s little bed-room. One would like to
lie down in it and sleep a century or two. And yet that dreadful Capitol
and its office-seekers are only ten miles off.”

“No! that is more than I can bear!” broke in Miss Victoria in a stage
whisper, “that dreadful Capitol! Why, not one of us would be here
without that dreadful Capitol! except, perhaps, myself.”

“You would appear very well as Mrs. Washington, Victoria.”

“Miss Dare has been so very obliging as to give us her views of General
Washington’s character this morning,” said Dunbeg, “but I have not yet
had time to ask Mr. Carrington for his.”

“Whatever Miss Dare says is valuable,” replied Carrington, “but her
strong point is facts.”

“Never flatter! Mr. Carrington,” drawled Miss Dare; “I do not need it,
and it does not become your style. Tell me, Lord Dunbeg, is not Mr.
Carrington a little your idea of General Washington restored to us in
his prime?”

“After your account of General Washington, Miss Dare, how can I agree
with you?”

“After all,” said Lord Skye, “I think we must agree that Miss Dare is in
the main right about the charms of Mount Vernon. Even Mrs. Lee, on the
way up, agreed that the General, who is the only permanent resident
here, has the air of being confoundedly bored in his tomb. I don’t
myself love your dreadful Capitol yonder, but I prefer it to a bucolic
life here. And I account in this way for my want of enthusiasm for your
great General. He liked no kind of life but this. He seems to have been
greater in the character of a home-sick Virginia planter than as General
or President. I forgive him his inordinate dulness, for he was not a
diplomatist and it was not his business to lie, but he might once in a
way have forgotten Mount Vernon.”

Dunbeg here burst in with an excited protest; all his words seemed to
shove each other aside in their haste to escape first. “All our greatest
Englishmen have been home-sick country squires. I am a home-sick country
squire myself.”

“How interesting!” said Miss Dare under her breath.

Mr. Gore here joined in: “It is all very well for you gentlemen to
measure General Washington according to your own private twelve-inch
carpenter’s rule. But what will you say to us New Englanders who never
were country gentlemen at all, and never had any liking for Virginia?
What did Washington ever do for us? He never even pretended to like us.
He never was more than barely civil to us. I’m not finding fault with
him; everybody knows that he never cared for anything but Mount Vernon.
For all that, we idolize him. To us he is Morality, Justice, Duty,
Truth; half a dozen Roman gods with capital letters. He is austere,
solitary, grand; he ought to be deified. I hardly feel easy, eating,
drinking, smoking here on his portico without his permission, taking
liberties with his house, criticising his bedrooms in his absence.
Suppose I heard his horse now trotting up on the other side, and he
suddenly appeared at this door and looked at us. I should abandon you to
his indignation. I should run away and hide myself on the steamer. The
mere thought unmans me.”

Ratcliffe seemed amused at Gore’s half-serious notions. “You recall
to me,” said he, “my own feelings when I was a boy and was made by my
father to learn the Farewell Address by heart. In those days General
Washington was a sort of American Jehovah. But the West is a poor
school for Reverence. Since coming to Congress I have learned more about
General Washington, and have been surprised to find what a narrow
base his reputation rests on. A fair military officer, who made many
blunders, and who never had more men than would make a full army-corps
under his command, he got an enormous reputation in Europe because he
did not make himself king, as though he ever had a chance of doing it.
A respectable, painstaking President, he was treated by the Opposition
with an amount of deference that would have made government easy to a
baby, but it worried him to death. His official papers are fairly done,
and contain good average sense such as a hundred thousand men in the
United States would now write. I suspect that half of his attachment to
this spot rose from his consciousness of inferior powers and his dread
of responsibility. This government can show to-day a dozen men of equal
abilities, but we don’t deify them. What I most wonder at in him is
not his military or political genius at all, for I doubt whether he
had much, but a curious Yankee shrewdness in money matters. He thought
himself a very rich man, yet he never spent a dollar foolishly. He was
almost the only Virginian I ever heard of, in public life, who did not
die insolvent.”

During this long speech, Carrington glanced across at Madeleine, and
caught her eye. Ratcliffe’s criticism was not to her taste. Carrington
could see that she thought it unworthy of him, and he knew that it would
irritate her.

“I will lay a little trap for Mr. Ratcliffe,” thought he to himself;
“we will see whether he gets out of it.” So Carrington began, and all
listened closely, for, as a Virginian, he was supposed to know much
about the subject, and his family had been deep in the confidence of
Washington himself.

“The neighbours hereabout had for many years, and may have still, some
curious stories about General Washington’s closeness in money matters.
They said he never bought anything by weight but he had it weighed over
again, nor by tale but he had it counted, and if the weight or number
were not exact, he sent it back. Once, during his absence, his steward
had a room plastered, and paid the plasterer’s bill. On the General’s
return, he measured the room, and found that the plasterer had charged
fifteen shillings too much. Meanwhile the man had died, and the General
made a claim of fifteen shillings on his estate, which was paid. Again,
one of his tenants brought him the rent. The exact change of fourpence
was required. The man tendered a dollar, and asked the General to credit
him with the balance against the next year’s rent. The General refused
and made him ride nine miles to Alexandria and back for the fourpence.
On the other hand, he sent to a shoemaker in Alexandria to come and
measure him for shoes. The man returned word that he did not go to any
one’s house to take measures, and the General mounted his horse and rode
the nine miles to him. One of his rules was to pay at taverns the same
sum for his servants’ meals as for his own. An inn-keeper brought him a
bill of three-and-ninepence for his own breakfast, and three shillings
for his servant. He insisted upon adding the extra ninepence, as he did
not doubt that the servant had eaten as much as he. What do you say to
these anecdotes? Was this meanness or not?”

Ratcliffe was amused. “The stories are new to me,” he said. “It is just
as I thought. These are signs of a man who thinks much of trifles; one
who fusses over small matters. We don’t do things in that way now that
we no longer have to get crops from granite, as they used to do in New
Hampshire when I was a boy.”

Carrington replied that it was unlucky for Virginians that they had not
done things in that way then: if they had, they would not have gone to
the dogs.

Gore shook his head seriously; “Did I not tell you so?” said he. “Was
not this man an abstract virtue? I give you my word I stand in awe
before him, and I feel ashamed to pry into these details of his life.
What is it to us how he thought proper to apply his principles to
nightcaps and feather dusters? We are not his body servants, and we
care nothing about his infirmities. It is enough for us to know that he
carried his rules of virtue down to a pin’s point, and that we ought,
one and all, to be on our knees before his tomb.”

Dunbeg, pondering deeply, at length asked Carrington whether all this
did not make rather a clumsy politician of the father of his country.

“Mr. Ratcliffe knows more about politics than I. Ask him,” said

“Washington was no politician at all, as we understand the word,”
 replied Ratcliffe abruptly. “He stood outside of politics. The thing
couldn’t be done to-day. The people don’t like that sort of royal airs.”

“I don’t understand!” said Mrs. Lee. “Why could you not do it now?”

“Because I should make a fool of myself;” replied Ratcliffe, pleased to
think that Mrs. Lee should put him on a level with Washington. She had
only meant to ask why the thing could not be done, and this little touch
of Ratcliffe’s vanity was inimitable.

“Mr. Ratcliffe means that Washington was too respectable for our time,”
 interposed Carrington.

This was deliberately meant to irritate Ratcliffe, and it did so all
the more because Mrs. Lee turned to Carrington, and said, with some

“Was he then the only honest public man we ever had?”

“Oh no!” replied Carrington cheerfully; “there have been one or two

“If the rest of our Presidents had been like him,” said Gore, “we should
have had fewer ugly blots on our short history.”

Ratcliffe was exasperated at Carrington’s habit of drawing discussion to
this point. He felt the remark as a personal insult, and he knew it to
be intended. “Public men,” he broke out, “cannot be dressing themselves
to-day in Washington’s old clothes. If Washington were President now, he
would have to learn our ways or lose his next election. Only fools and
theorists imagine that our society can be handled with gloves or long
poles. One must make one’s self a part of it. If virtue won’t answer our
purpose, we must use vice, or our opponents will put us out of office,
and this was as true in Washington’s day as it is now, and always will

“Come,” said Lord Skye, who was beginning to fear an open quarrel; “the
conversation verges on treason, and I am accredited to this government.
Why not examine the grounds?”

A kind of natural sympathy led Lord Dunbeg to wander by the side of Miss
Dare through the quaint old garden. His mind being much occupied by the
effort of stowing away the impressions he had just received, he was more
than usually absent in his manner, and this want of attention irritated
the young lady. She made some comments on flowers; she invented some
new species with startling names; she asked whether these were known in
Ireland; but Lord Dunbeg was for the moment so vague in his answers that
she saw her case was perilous.

“Here is an old sun-dial. Do you have sun-dials in Ireland, Lord

“Yes; oh, certainly! What! sun-dials? Oh, yes! I assure you there are a
great many sun-dials in Ireland, Miss Dare.”

“I am so glad. But I suppose they are only for ornament. Here it is just
the other way. Look at this one! they all behave like that. The wear and
tear of our sun is too much for them; they don’t last. My uncle, who has
a place at Long Branch, had five sun-dials in ten years.”

“How very odd! But really now, Miss Dare, I don’t see how a sun--dial
could wear out.”

“Don’t you? How strange! Don’t you see, they get soaked with sunshine so
that they can’t hold shadow. It’s like me, you know. I have such a
good time all the time that I can’t be unhappy. Do you ever read the
Burlington Hawkeye, Lord Dunbeg?”

“I don’t remember; I think not. Is it an American serial?” gasped
Dunbeg, trying hard to keep pace with Miss Dare in her reckless dashes
across country.

“No, not serial at all!” replied Virginia; “but I am afraid you would
find it very hard reading. I shouldn’t try.”

“Do you read it much, Miss Dare?”

“Oh, always! I am not really as light as I seem. But then I have an
advantage over you because I know the language.”

By this time Dunbeg was awake again, and Miss Dare, satisfied with her
success, allowed herself to become more reasonable, until a slight shade
of sentiment began to flicker about their path.

The scattered party, however, soon had to unite again. The boat rang
its bell for return, they filed down the paths and settled themselves
in their old places. As they steamed away, Mrs. Lee watched the sunny
hill-side and the peaceful house above, until she could see them no
more, and the longer she looked, the less she was pleased with herself.
Was it true, as Victoria Dare said, that she could not live in so pure
an air? Did she really need the denser fumes of the city? Was she,
unknown to herself; gradually becoming tainted with the life about her?
or was Ratcliffe right in accepting the good and the bad together, and
in being of his time since he was in it? Why was it, she said bitterly
to herself; that everything Washington touched, he purified, even down
to the associations of his house? and why is it that everything we touch
seems soiled? Why do I feel unclean when I look at Mount Vernon? In
spite of Mr. Ratcliffe, is it not better to be a child and to cry for
the moon and stars?

The little Baker girl came up to her where she stood, and began playing
with her parasol.

“Who is your little friend?” asked Ratcliffe.

Mrs. Lee rather vaguely replied that she was the daughter of that pretty
woman in black; she believed her name was Baker.

“Baker, did you say?” repeated Ratcliffe.

“Baker--Mrs. Sam Baker; at least so Mr. Carrington told me; he said she
was a client of his.”

In fact Ratcliffe soon saw Carrington go up to her and remain by her
side during the rest of the trip. Ratcliffe watched them sharply and
grew more and more absorbed in his own thoughts as the boat drew nearer
and nearer the shore.

Carrington was in high spirits. He thought he had played his cards with
unusual success. Even Miss Dare deigned to acknowledge his charms that

She declared herself to be the moral image of Martha Washington, and she
started a discussion whether Carrington or Lord Dunbeg would best suit
her in the rôle of the General.

“Mr. Carrington is exemplary,” she said, “but oh, what joy to be Martha
Washington and a Countess too!”

Chapter VII

WHEN he reached his rooms that afternoon, Senator Ratcliffe found
there, as he expected, a choice company of friends and admirers, who had
beguiled their leisure hours since noon by cursing him in every variety
of profane language that experience could suggest and impatience
stimulate. On his part, had he consulted his own feelings only, he would
then and there have turned them out, and locked the doors behind them.
So far as silent maledictions were concerned, no profanity of theirs
could hold its own against the intensity and deliberation with which,
as he found himself approaching his own door, he expressed between his
teeth his views in respect to their eternal interests. Nothing could be
less suited to his present humour than the society which awaited him in
his rooms. He groaned in spirit as he sat down at his writing-table and
looked about him. Dozens of office-seekers were besieging the house;
men whose patriotic services in the last election called loudly for
recognition from a grateful country.

They brought their applications to the Senator with an entreaty that he
would endorse and take charge of them. Several members and senators who
felt that Ratcliffe had no reason for existence except to fight their
battle for patronage, were lounging about his room, reading newspapers,
or beguiling their time with tobacco in various forms; at long
intervals making dull remarks, as though they were more weary than their
constituents of the atmosphere that surrounds the grandest government
the sun ever shone upon.

Several newspaper correspondents, eager to barter their news for
Ratcliffe’s hints or suggestions, appeared from time to time on the
scene, and, dropping into a chair by Ratcliffe’s desk, whispered with
him in mysterious tones.

Thus the Senator worked on, hour after hour, mechanically doing what was
required of him, signing papers without reading them, answering remarks
without hearing them, hardly looking up from his desk, and appearing
immersed in labour. This was his protection against curiosity and

The pretence of work was the curtain he drew between himself and the

Behind this curtain his mental operations went on, undisturbed by what
was about him, while he heard all that was said, and said little or
nothing himself. His followers respected this privacy, and left him
alone. He was their prophet, and had a right to seclusion. He was their
chieftain, and while he sat in his monosyllabic solitude, his ragged
tail reclined in various attitudes about him, and occasionally one man
spoke, or another swore. Newspapers and tobacco were their resource in
periods of absolute silence.

A shade of depression rested on the faces and the voices of Clan
Ratcliffe that evening, as is not unusual with forces on the eve of
battle. Their remarks came at longer intervals, and were more pointless
and random than usual. There was a want of elasticity in their bearing
and tone, partly coming from sympathy with the evident depression of
their chief; partly from the portents of the time. The President was to
arrive within forty-eight hours, and as yet there was no sign that
he properly appreciated their services; there were signs only too
unmistakeable that he was painfully misled and deluded, that his
countenance was turned wholly in another direction, and that all their
sacrifices were counted as worthless. There was reason to believe that
he came with a deliberate purpose of making war upon Ratcliffe and
breaking him down; of refusing to bestow patronage on them, and of
bestowing it wherever it would injure them most deeply. At the thought
that their honestly earned harvest of foreign missions and consulates,
department-bureaus, custom-house and revenue offices, postmasterships,
Indian agencies, and army and navy contracts, might now be wrung from
their grasp by the selfish greed of a mere accidental intruder--a man
whom nobody wanted and every one ridiculed--their natures rebelled, and
they felt that such things must not be; that there could be no more hope
for democratic government if such things were possible. At this point
they invariably became excited, lost their equanimity, and swore. Then
they fell back on their faith in Ratcliffe: if any man could pull them
through, he could; after all, the President must first reckon with him,
and he was an uncommon tough customer to tackle.

Perhaps, however, even their faith in Ratcliffe might have been shaken,
could they at that moment have looked into his mind and understood what
was passing there. Ratcliffe was a man vastly their superior, and he
knew it. He lived in a world of his own and had instincts of refinement.
Whenever his affairs went unfavourably, these instincts revived, and for
the time swept all his nature with them. He was now filled with disgust
and cynical contempt for every form of politics. During long years
he had done his best for his party; he had sold himself to the devil,
coined his heart’s blood, toiled with a dogged persistence that no
day-labourer ever conceived; and all for what? To be rejected as its
candidate; to be put under the harrow of a small Indiana farmer who
made no secret of the intention to “corral” him, and, as he elegantly
expressed it, to “take his hide and tallow.” Ratcliffe had no great fear
of losing his hide, but he felt aggrieved that he should be called
upon to defend it, and that this should be the result of twenty years’
devotion. Like most men in the same place, he did not stop to cast
up both columns of his account with the party, nor to ask himself the
question that lay at the heart of his grievance: How far had he served
his party and how far himself? He was in no humour for self-analysis:
this requires more repose of mind than he could then command. As for
the President, from whom he had not heard a whisper since the insolent
letter to Grimes, which he had taken care not to show, the Senator felt
only a strong impulse to teach him better sense and better manners. But
as for political life, the events of the last six months were calculated
to make any man doubt its value. He was quite out of sympathy with it.
He hated the sight of his tobacco-chewing, newspaper-reading satellites,
with their hats tipped at every angle except the right one, and their
feet everywhere except on the floor. Their conversation bored him and
their presence was a nuisance. He would not submit to this slavery
longer. He would have given his Senatorship for a civilized house like
Mrs. Lee’s, with a woman like Mrs. Lee at its head, and twenty thousand
a year for life. He smiled his only smile that evening when he thought
how rapidly she would rout every man Jack of his political following out
of her parlours, and how meekly they would submit to banishment into a
back-office with an oil-cloth carpet and two cane chairs.

He felt that Mrs. Lee was more necessary to him than the Presidency
itself; he could not go on without her; he needed human companionship;
some Christian comfort for his old age; some avenue of communication
with that social world, which made his present surroundings look cold
and foul; some touch of that refinement of mind and morals beside which
his own seemed coarse. He felt unutterably lonely. He wished Mrs.
Lee had asked him home to dinner; but Mrs. Lee had gone to bed with a
headache. He should not see her again for a week. Then his mind turned
back upon their morning at Mount Vernon, and bethinking himself of Mrs.
Sam Baker, he took a sheet of note-paper, and wrote a line to Wilson
Keen, Esq., at Georgetown, requesting him to call, if possible, the
next morning towards one o’clock at the Senator’s rooms on a matter
of business. Wilson Keen was chief of the Secret Service Bureau in the
Treasury Department, and, as the depositary of all secrets, was often
called upon for assistance which he was very good-natured in furnishing
to senators, especially if they were likely to be Secretaries of the

This note despatched, Mr. Ratcliffe fell back into his reflective mood,
which led him apparently into still lower depths of discontent until,
with a muttered oath, he swore he could “stand no more of this,” and,
suddenly rising, he informed his visitors that he was sorry to leave
them, but he felt rather poorly and was going to bed; and to bed he
went, while his guests departed, each as his business or desires might
point him, some to drink whiskey and some to repose.

On Sunday morning Mr. Ratcliffe, as usual, went to church. He always
attended morning service--at the Methodist Episcopal Church--not wholly
on the ground of religious conviction, but because a large number of his
constituents were church-going people and he would not willingly shock
their principles so long as he needed their votes. In church, he kept
his eyes closely fixed upon the clergyman, and at the end of the sermon
he could say with truth that he had not heard a word of it, although the
respectable minister was gratified by the attention his discourse had
received from the Senator from Illinois, an attention all the more
praiseworthy because of the engrossing public cares which must at
that moment have distracted the Senator’s mind. In this last idea,
the minister was right. Mr. Ratcliffe’s mind was greatly distracted by
public cares, and one of his strongest reasons for going to church at
all was that he might get an hour or two of undisturbed reflection.
During the entire service he was absorbed in carrying on a series
of imaginary conversations with the new President. He brought up in
succession every form of proposition which the President might make to
him; every trap which could be laid for him; every sort of treatment he
might expect, so that he could not be taken by surprise, and his frank,
simple nature could never be at a loss. One object, however, long
escaped him. Supposing, what was more than probable, that the
President’s opposition to Ratcliffe’s declared friends made it
impossible to force any of them into office; it would then be necessary
to try some new man, not obnoxious to the President, as a candidate for
the Cabinet. Who should this be? Ratcliffe pondered long and deeply,
searching out a man who combined the most powerful interests, with the
fewest enmities. This subject was still uppermost at the moment when
service ended. Ratcliffe pondered over it as he walked back to his
rooms. Not until he reached his own door did he come to a conclusion:

Carson would do; Carson of Pennsylvania; the President had probably
never heard of him.

Mr. Wilson Keen was waiting the Senator’s return, a heavy man with a
square face, and good-natured, active blue eyes; a man of few words and
those well-considered. The interview was brief. After apologising for
breaking in upon Sunday with business, Mr. Ratcliffe excused himself on
the ground that so little time was left before the close of the session.
A bill now before one of his Committees, on which a report must soon
be made, involved matters to which it was believed that the late Samuel
Baker, formerly a well-known lobby-agent in Washington, held the only
clue. He being dead, Mr. Ratcliffe wished to know whether he had left
any papers behind him, and in whose hands these papers were, or whether
any partner or associate of his was acquainted with his affairs.

Mr. Keen made a note of the request, merely remarking that he had been
very well acquainted with Baker, and also a little with his wife, who
was supposed to know his affairs as well as he knew them himself; and
who was still in Washington. He thought he could bring the information
in a day or two. As he then rose to go, Mr. Ratcliffe added that entire
secrecy was necessary, as the interests involved in obstructing the
search were considerable, and it was not well to wake them up. Mr. Keen
assented and went his way.

All this was natural enough and entirely proper, at least so far as
appeared on the surface. Had Mr. Keen been so curious in other people’s
affairs as to look for the particular legislative measure which lay at
the bottom of Mr.

Ratcliffe’s inquiries, he might have searched among the papers of
Congress a very long time and found himself greatly puzzled at last. In
fact there was no measure of the kind. The whole story was a fiction.
Mr. Ratcliffe had scarcely thought of Baker since his death, until the
day before, when he had seen his widow on the Mount Vernon steamer and
had found her in relations with Carrington. Something in Carrington’s
habitual attitude and manner towards himself had long struck him as
peculiar, and this connection with Mrs. Baker had suggested to the
Senator the idea that it might be well to have an eye on both. Mrs.
Baker was a silly woman, as he knew, and there were old transactions
between Ratcliffe and Baker of which she might be informed, but which
Ratcliffe had no wish to see brought within Mrs. Lee’s ken. As for
the fiction invented to set Keen in motion, it was an innocent one.
It harmed nobody. Ratcliffe selected this particular method of inquiry
because it was the easiest, safest, and most effectual. If he were
always to wait until he could afford to tell the precise truth, business
would very soon be at a standstill, and his career at an end.

This little matter disposed of; the Senator from Illinois passed his
afternoon in calling upon some of his brother senators, and the first
of those whom he honoured with a visit was Mr. Krebs, of Pennsylvania.
There were many reasons which now made the co-operation of that
high-minded statesman essential to Mr. Ratcliffe. The strongest of them
was that the Pennsylvania delegation in Congress was well disciplined
and could be used with peculiar advantage for purposes of “pressure.”
 Ratcliffe’s success in his contest with the new President depended
on the amount of “pressure” he could employ. To keep himself in the
background, and to fling over the head of the raw Chief Magistrate a web
of intertwined influences, any one of which alone would be useless, but
which taken together were not to be broken through; to revive the lost
art of the Roman retiarius, who from a safe distance threw his net over
his adversary, before attacking with the dagger; this was Ratcliffe’s
intention and towards this he had been directing all his manipulation
for weeks past. How much bargaining and how many promises he found it
necessary to make, was known to himself alone. About this time Mrs. Lee
was a little surprised to find Mr. Gore speaking with entire confidence
of having Ratcliffe’s support in his application for the Spanish
mission, for she had rather imagined that Gore was not a favourite with
Ratcliffe. She noticed too that Schneidekoupon had come back again and
spoke mysteriously of interviews with Ratcliffe; of attempts to unite
the interests of New York and Pennsylvania; and his countenance took on
a dark and dramatic expression as he proclaimed that no sacrifice of the
principle of protection should be tolerated. Schneidekoupon disappeared
as suddenly as he came, and from Sybil’s innocent complaints of
his spirits and temper, Mrs. Lee jumped to the conclusion that Mr.
Ratcliffe, Mr. Clinton, and Mr.

Krebs had for the moment combined to sit heavily upon poor
Schneidekoupon, and to remove his disturbing influence from the scene,
at least until other men should get what they wanted. These were merely
the trifling incidents that fell within Mrs. Lee’s observation. She felt
an atmosphere of bargain and intrigue, but she could only imagine how
far it extended. Even Carrington, when she spoke to him about it, only
laughed and shook his head:

“Those matters are private, my dear Mrs. Lee; you and I are not meant to
know such things.”

This Sunday afternoon Mr. Ratcliffe’s object was to arrange the little
manoeuvre about Carson of Pennsylvania, which had disturbed him in

His efforts were crowned with success. Krebs accepted Carson and
promised to bring him forward at ten minutes’ notice, should the
emergency arise.

Ratcliffe was a great statesman. The smoothness of his manipulation was
marvellous. No other man in politics, indeed no other man who had ever
been in politics in this country, could--his admirers said--have brought
together so many hostile interests and made so fantastic a combination.
Some men went so far as to maintain that he would “rope in the President
himself before the old man had time to swap knives with him.” The beauty
of his work consisted in the skill with which he evaded questions of
principle. As he wisely said, the issue now involved was not one of
principle but of power.

The fate of that noble party to which they all belonged, and which had
a record that could never be forgotten, depended on their letting
principle alone. Their principle must be the want of principles. There
were indeed individuals who said in reply that Ratcliffe had made
promises which never could be carried out, and there were almost
superhuman elements of discord in the combination, but as Ratcliffe
shrewdly rejoined, he only wanted it to last a week, and he guessed his
promises would hold it up for that time.

Such was the situation when on Monday afternoon the President-elect
arrived in Washington, and the comedy began. The new President was,
almost as much as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Pierce, an unknown
quantity in political mathematics. In the national convention of the
party, nine months before, after some dozens of fruitless ballots in
which Ratcliffe wanted but three votes of a majority, his opponents had
done what he was now doing; they had laid aside their principles and
set up for their candidate a plain Indiana farmer, whose political
experience was limited to stump-speaking in his native State, and to one
term as Governor. They had pitched upon him, not because they thought
him competent, but because they hoped by doing so to detach Indiana from
Ratcliffe’s following, and they were so successful that within fifteen
minutes Ratcliffe’s friends were routed, and the Presidency had fallen
upon this new political Buddha.

He had begun his career as a stone-cutter in a quarry, and was, not
unreasonably, proud of the fact. During the campaign this incident had,
of course, filled a large space in the public mind, or, more exactly,
in the public eye. “The Stone-cutter of the Wabash,” he was sometimes
called; at others “the Hoosier Quarryman,” but his favourite appellation
was “Old Granite,” although this last endearing name, owing to an
unfortunate similarity of sound, was seized upon by his opponents, and
distorted into “Old Granny.” He had been painted on many thousand yards
of cotton sheeting, either with a terrific sledge-hammer, smashing the
skulls (which figured as paving-stones) of his political opponents, or
splitting by gigantic blows a huge rock typical of the opposing party.
His opponents in their turn had paraded illuminations representing the
Quarryman in the garb of a State’s-prison convict breaking the heads
of Ratcliffe and other well-known political leaders with a very feeble
hammer, or as “Old Granny” in pauper’s rags, hopelessly repairing with
the same heads the impossible roads which typified the ill-conditioned
and miry ways of his party. But these violations of decency and good
sense were universally reproved by the virtuous; and it was remarked
with satisfaction that the purest and most highly cultivated newspaper
editors on his side, without excepting those of Boston itself; agreed
with one voice that the Stone-cutter was a noble type of man, perhaps
the very noblest that had appeared to adorn this country since the
incomparable Washington.

That he was honest, all admitted; that is to say, all who voted for him.

This is a general characteristic of all new presidents. He himself took
great pride in his home-spun honesty, which is a quality peculiar to
nature’s noblemen. Owing nothing, as he conceived, to politicians,
but sympathising through every fibre of his unselfish nature with the
impulses and aspirations of the people, he affirmed it to be his first
duty to protect the people from those vultures, as he called them,
those wolves in sheep’s clothing, those harpies, those hyenas, the
politicians; epithets which, as generally interpreted, meant Ratcliffe
and Ratcliffe’s friends.

His cardinal principle in politics was hostility to Ratcliffe, yet he
was not vindictive. He came to Washington determined to be the Father of
his country; to gain a proud immortality and a re-election.

Upon this gentleman Ratcliffe had let loose all the forms of “pressure”
 which could be set in motion either in or out of Washington. From the
moment when he had left his humble cottage in Southern Indiana, he had
been captured by Ratcliffe’s friends, and smothered in demonstrations
of affection. They had never allowed him to suggest the possibility
of ill-feeling. They had assumed as a matter of course that the most
cordial attachment existed between him and his party. On his arrival
in Washington they systematically cut him off from contact with any
influences but their own. This was not a very difficult thing to do, for
great as he was, he liked to be told of his greatness, and they made him
feel himself a colossus. Even the few personal friends in his company
were manipulated with the utmost care, and their weaknesses put to use
before they had been in Washington a single day.

Not that Ratcliffe had anything to do with all this underhand
and grovelling intrigue. Mr. Ratcliffe was a man of dignity and
self-respect, who left details to his subordinates. He waited calmly
until the President, recovered from the fatigues of his journey, should
begin to feel the effect of a Washington atmosphere. Then on Wednesday
morning, Mr. Ratcliffe left his rooms an hour earlier than usual on his
way to the Senate, and called at the President’s Hotel: he was ushered
into a large apartment in which the new Chief Magistrate was holding
court, although at sight of Ratcliffe, the other visitors edged away
or took their hats and left the room. The President proved to be a
hard-featured man of sixty, with a hooked nose and thin, straight,
iron-gray hair. His voice was rougher than his features and he received
Ratcliffe awkwardly. He had suffered since his departure from Indiana.
Out there it had seemed a mere flea-bite, as he expressed it, to brush
Ratcliffe aside, but in Washington the thing was somehow different.

Even his own Indiana friends looked grave when he talked of it, and
shook their heads. They advised him to be cautious and gain time; to
lead Ratcliffe on, and if possible to throw on him the responsibility of
a quarrel. He was, therefore, like a brown bear undergoing the process
of taming; very ill-tempered, very rough, and at the same time very much
bewildered and a little frightened. Ratcliffe sat ten minutes with him,
and obtained information in regard to pains which the President had
suffered during the previous night, in consequence, as he believed, of
an over-indulgence in fresh lobster, a luxury in which he had found a
diversion from the cares of state. So soon as this matter was explained
and condoled upon, Ratcliffe rose and took leave.

Every device known to politicians was now in full play against the
Hoosier Quarryman. State delegations with contradictory requests were
poured in upon him, among which that of Massachusetts presented as
its only prayer the appointment of Mr. Gore to the Spanish mission.
Difficulties were invented to embarrass and worry him. False leads were
suggested, and false information carefully mingled with true. A wild
dance was kept up under his eyes from daylight to midnight, until his
brain reeled with the effort to follow it. Means were also found to
convert one of his personal, confidential friends, who had come with him
from Indiana and who had more brains or less principle than the others;
from him every word of the President was brought directly to Ratcliffe’s

Early on Friday morning, Mr. Thomas Lord, a rival of the late Samuel
Baker, and heir to his triumphs, appeared in Ratcliffe’s rooms while the
Senator was consuming his lonely egg and chop. Mr. Lord had been chosen
to take general charge of the presidential party and to direct all
matters connected with Ratcliffe’s interests. Some people might consider
this the work of a spy; he looked on it as a public duty. He reported
that “Old Granny” had at last shown signs of weakness. Late the previous
evening when, according to his custom, he was smoking his pipe in
company with his kitchen-cabinet of followers, he had again fallen upon
the subject of Ratcliffe, and with a volley of oaths had sworn that he
would show him his place yet, and that he meant to offer him a seat in
the Cabinet that would make him “sicker than a stuck hog.” From this
remark and some explanatory hints that followed, it seemed that the
Quarryman had abandoned his scheme of putting Ratcliffe to immediate
political death, and had now undertaken to invite him into a Cabinet
which was to be specially constructed to thwart and humiliate him.

The President, it appeared, warmly applauded the remark of one
counsellor, that Ratcliffe was safer in the Cabinet than in the Senate,
and that it would be easy to kick him out when the time came.

Ratcliffe smiled grimly as Mr. Lord, with much clever mimicry, described
the President’s peculiarities of language and manner, but he said
nothing and waited for the event. The same evening came a note from the
President’s private secretary requesting his attendance, if possible,
to-morrow, Saturday morning, at ten o’clock. The note was curt and cool.
Ratcliffe merely sent back word that he would come, and felt a little
regret that the President should not know enough etiquette to understand
that this verbal answer was intended as a hint to improve his manners.
He did come accordingly, and found the President looking blacker
than before. This time there was no avoiding of tender subjects. The
President meant to show Ratcliffe by the decision of his course, that
he was master of the situation. He broke at once into the middle of
the matter: “I sent for you,” said he, “to consult with you about my
Cabinet. Here is a list of the gentlemen I intend to invite into it. You
will see that I have got you down for the Treasury. Will you look at the
list and say what you think of it?”

Ratcliffe took the paper, but laid it at once on the table without
looking at it. “I can have no objection,” said he, “to any Cabinet you
may appoint, provided I am not included in it. My wish is to remain
where I am. There I can serve your administration better than in the

“Then you refuse?” growled the President.

“By no means. I only decline to offer any advice or even to hear the
names of my proposed colleagues until it is decided that my services
are necessary. If they are, I shall accept without caring with whom I

The President glared at him with an uneasy look. What was to be done

He wanted time to think, but Ratcliffe was there and must be disposed
of. He involuntarily became more civil: “Mr. Ratcliffe, your refusal
would knock everything on the head. I thought that matter was all fixed.
What more can I do?”

But Ratcliffe had no mind to let the President out of his clutches so
easily, and a long conversation followed, during which he forced his
antagonist into the position of urging him to take the Treasury in order
to prevent some undefined but portentous mischief in the Senate. All
that could be agreed upon was that Ratcliffe should give a positive
answer within two days, and on that agreement he took his leave.

As he passed through the corridor, a number of gentlemen were waiting
for interviews with the President, and among them was the whole
Pennsylvania delegation, “ready for biz,” as Mr. Tom Lord remarked, with
a wink.

Ratcliffe drew Krebs aside and they exchanged a few words as he passed

Ten minutes afterwards the delegation was admitted, and some of its
members were a little surprised to hear their spokesman, Senator Krebs,
press with extreme earnestness and in their names, the appointment of
Josiah B. Carson to a place in the Cabinet, when they had been given to
understand that they came to recommend Jared Caldwell as postmaster
of Philadelphia. But Pennsylvania is a great and virtuous State, whose
representatives have entire confidence in their chief. Not one of them
so much as winked.

The dance of democracy round the President now began again with wilder
energy. Ratcliffe launched his last bolts. His two-days’ delay was a
mere cover for bringing new influences to bear. He needed no delay. He
wanted no time for reflection. The President had undertaken to put
him on the horns of a dilemma; either to force him into a hostile and
treacherous Cabinet, or to throw on him the blame of a refusal and
a quarrel. He meant to embrace one of the horns and to impale the
President on it, and he felt perfect confidence in his own success. He
meant to accept the Treasury and he was ready to back himself with a
heavy wager to get the government entirely into his own hands within six
weeks. His contempt for the Hoosier Stone-cutter was unbounded, and his
confidence in himself more absolute than ever.

Busy as he was, the Senator made his appearance the next evening at Mrs.

Lee’s, and finding her alone with Sybil, who was occupied with her
own little devices, Ratcliffe told Madeleine the story of his week’s

He did not dwell on his exploits. On the contrary he quite ignored those
elaborate arrangements which had taken from the President his power of
volition. His picture presented himself; solitary and unprotected, in
the character of that honest beast who was invited to dine with the lion
and saw that all the footmarks of his predecessors led into the lion’s
cave, and none away from it. He described in humorous detail his
interviews with the Indiana lion, and the particulars of the surfeit of
lobster as given in the President’s dialect; he even repeated to her the
story told him by Mr. Tom Lord, without omitting oaths or gestures; he
told her how matters stood at the moment, and how the President had laid
a trap for him which he could not escape; he must either enter a
Cabinet constructed on purpose to thwart him and with the certainty of
ignominious dismissal at the first opportunity, or he must refuse an
offer of friendship which would throw on him the blame of a quarrel, and
enable the President to charge all future difficulties to the account
of Ratcliffe’s “insatiable ambition.” “And now, Mrs. Lee,” he continued,
with increasing seriousness of tone; “I want your advice; what shall I

Even this half revelation of the meanness which distorted politics; this
one-sided view of human nature in its naked deformity playing pranks
with the interests of forty million people, disgusted and depressed
Madeleine’s mind. Ratclife spared her nothing except the exposure of
his own moral sores. He carefully called her attention to every leprous
taint upon his neighbours’ persons, to every rag in their foul clothing,
to every slimy and fetid pool that lay beside their path. It was his way
of bringing his own qualities into relief. He meant that she should go
hand in hand with him through the brimstone lake, and the more repulsive
it seemed to her, the more overwhelming would his superiority become. He
meant to destroy those doubts of his character which Carrington was so
carefully fostering, to rouse her sympathy, to stimulate her feminine
sense of self-sacrifice.

When he asked this question she looked up at him with an expression of
indignant pride, as she spoke:

“I say again, Mr. Ratcliffe, what I said once before. Do whatever is
most for the public good.”

“And what is most for the public good?”

Madeleine half opened her mouth to reply, then hesitated, and stared
silently into the fire before her. What was indeed most for the public

Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal
intrigue, this wilderness of stunted natures where no straight road
was to be found, but only the tortuous and aimless tracks of beasts and
things that crawl?

Where was she to look for a principle to guide, an ideal to set up and
to point at?

Ratcliffe resumed his appeal, and his manner was more serious than ever.

“I am hard pressed, Mrs. Lee. My enemies encompass me about. They mean
to ruin me. I honestly wish to do my duty. You once said that personal
considerations should have no weight. Very well! throw them away! And
now tell me what I should do.”

For the first time, Mrs. Lee began to feel his power. He was simple,
straightforward, earnest. His words moved her. How should she imagine
that he was playing upon her sensitive nature precisely as he played
upon the President’s coarse one, and that this heavy western politician
had the instincts of a wild Indian in their sharpness and quickness of
perception; that he divined her character and read it as he read the
faces and tones of thousands from day to day? She was uneasy under his
eye. She began a sentence, hesitated in the middle, and broke down. She
lost her command of thought, and sat dumb-founded. He had to draw her
out of the confusion he had himself made.

“I see your meaning in your face. You say that I should accept the duty
and disregard the consequences.”

“I don’t know,” said Madeleine, hesitatingly; “Yes, I think that would
be my feeling.”

“And when I fall a sacrifice to that man’s envy and intrigue, what will
you think then, Mrs. Lee? Will you not join the rest of the world and
say that I overreached myself; and walked into this trap with my eyes
open, and for my own objects? Do you think I shall ever be thought
better of; for getting caught here? I don’t parade high moral views like
our friend French. I won’t cant about virtue. But I do claim that in
my public life I have tried to do right. Will you do me the justice to
think so?”

Madeleine still struggled to prevent herself from being drawn into
indefinite promises of sympathy with this man. She would keep him at
arm’s length whatever her sympathies might be. She would not pledge
herself to espouse his cause. She turned upon him with an effort, and
said that her thoughts, now or at any time, were folly and nonsense, and
that the consciousness of right-doing was the only reward any public man
had a right to expect.

“And yet you are a hard critic, Mrs. Lee. If your thoughts are what
you say, your words are not. You judge with the judgment of abstract
principles, and you wield the bolts of divine justice. You look on and
condemn, but you refuse to acquit. When I come to you on the verge of
what is likely to be the fatal plunge of my life, and ask you only for
some clue to the moral principle that ought to guide me, you look on and
say that virtue is its own reward. And you do not even say where virtue

“I confess my sins,” said Madeleine, meekly and despondently; “life is
more complicated than I thought.”

“I shall be guided by your advice,” said Ratcliffe; “I shall walk into
that den of wild beasts, since you think I ought. But I shall hold you
to your responsibility. You cannot refuse to see me through dangers you
have helped to bring me into.”

“No, no!” cried Madeleine, earnestly; “no responsibility. You ask more
than I can give.”

Ratcliffe looked at her a moment with a troubled and careworn face. His
eyes seemed deep sunk in their dark circles, and his voice was pathetic
in its intensity. “Duty is duty, for you as well as for me. I have a
right to the help of all pure minds. You have no right to refuse it. How
can you reject your own responsibility and hold me to mine?”

Almost as he spoke, he rose and took his departure, leaving her no time
to do more than murmur again her ineffectual protest. After he was gone,

Lee sat long, with her eyes fixed on the fire, reflecting upon what he
had said. Her mind was bewildered by the new suggestions which Ratcliffe
had thrown out. What woman of thirty, with aspirations for the infinite,
could resist an attack like this? What woman with a soul could see
before her the most powerful public man of her time, appealing--with
a face furrowed by anxieties, and a voice vibrating with only
half-suppressed affection--to her for counsel and sympathy, without
yielding some response? and what woman could have helped bowing her head
to that rebuke of her over-confident judgment, coming as it did from one
who in the same breath appealed to that judgment as final? Ratcliffe,
too, had a curious instinct for human weaknesses. No magnetic needle
was ever truer than his finger when he touched the vulnerable spot in
an opponent’s mind. Mrs. Lee was not to be reached by an appeal to
religious sentiment, to ambition, or to affection.

Any such appeal would have fallen flat on her ears and destroyed its own
hopes. But she was a woman to the very last drop of her blood. She
could not be induced to love Ratcliffe, but she might be deluded into
sacrificing herself for him. She atoned for want of devotion to God, by
devotion to man.

She had a woman’s natural tendency towards asceticism, self-extinction,
self-abnegation. All through life she had made painful efforts to
understand and follow out her duty. Ratcliffe knew her weak point when
he attacked her from this side. Like all great orators and advocates, he
was an actor; the more effective because of a certain dignified air that
forbade familiarity.

He had appealed to her sympathy, her sense of right and of duty, to her
courage, her loyalty, her whole higher nature; and while he made this
appeal he felt more than half convinced that he was all he pretended to
be, and that he really had a right to her devotion. What wonder that she
in her turn was more than half inclined to admit that right. She knew
him now better than Carrington or Jacobi knew him. Surely a man who
spoke as he spoke, had noble instincts and lofty aims? Was not his
career a thousand times more important than hers? If he, in his
isolation and his cares, needed her assistance, had she an excuse for
refusing it? What was there in her aimless and useless life which made
it so precious that she could not afford to fling it into the gutter, if
need be, on the bare chance of enriching some fuller existence?

Chapter VIII

OF all titles ever assumed by prince or potentate, the proudest is that
of the Roman pontiffs: “Servus servorum Dei”--“Servant of the servants
of God.”

In former days it was not admitted that the devil’s servants could by
right have any share in government. They were to be shut out, punished,
exiled, maimed, and burned. The devil has no servants now; only the
people have servants. There may be some mistake about a doctrine which
makes the wicked, when a majority, the mouthpiece of God against the
virtuous, but the hopes of mankind are staked on it; and if the weak
in faith sometimes quail when they see humanity floating in a shoreless
ocean, on this plank, which experience and religion long since condemned
as rotten, mistake or not, men have thus far floated better by its aid,
than the popes ever did with their prettier principle; so that it will
be a long time yet before society repents.

Whether the new President and his chief rival, Mr. Silas P. Ratcliffe,
were or were not servants of the servants of God, is not material
here. Servants they were to some one. No doubt many of those who call
themselves servants of the people are no better than wolves in sheep’s
clothing, or asses in lions’ skins. One may see scores of them any day
in the Capitol when Congress is in session, making noisy demonstrations,
or more usefully doing nothing. A wiser generation will employ them in
manual labour; as it is, they serve only themselves. But there are
two officers, at least, whose service is real--the President and his
Secretary of the Treasury. The Hoosier Quarryman had not been a week
in Washington before he was heartily home-sick for Indiana. No
maid-of-all-work in a cheap boarding-house was ever more harassed.
Everyone conspired against him. His enemies gave him no peace. All
Washington was laughing at his blunders, and ribald sheets, published
on a Sunday, took delight in printing the new Chief Magistrate’s sayings
and doings, chronicled with outrageous humour, and placed by malicious
hands where the President could not but see them. He was sensitive to
ridicule, and it mortified him to the heart to find that remarks and
acts, which to him seemed sensible enough, should be capable of such
perversion. Then he was overwhelmed with public business. It came upon
him in a deluge, and he now, in his despair, no longer tried to control
it. He let it pass over him like a wave. His mind was muddied by the
innumerable visitors to whom he had to listen. But his greatest anxiety
was the Inaugural Address which, distracted as he was, he could not
finish, although in another week it must be delivered. He was nervous
about his Cabinet; it seemed to him that he could do nothing until he
had disposed of Ratcliffe.

Already, thanks to the President’s friends, Ratcliffe had become
indispensable; still an enemy, of course, but one whose hands must be
tied; a sort of Sampson, to be kept in bonds until the time came for
putting him out of the way, but in the meanwhile, to be utilized. This
point being settled, the President had in imagination begun to lean upon
him; for the last few days he had postponed everything till next week,
“when I get my Cabinet arranged;” which meant, when he got Ratcliffe’s
assistance; and he fell into a panic whenever he thought of the chance
that Ratcliffe might refuse.

He was pacing his room impatiently on Monday morning, an hour before
the time fixed for Ratcliffe’s visit. His feelings still fluctuated
violently, and if he recognized the necessity of using Ratcliffe, he
was not the less determined to tie Ratcliffe’s hands. He must be made
to come into a Cabinet where every other voice would be against him. He
must be prevented from having any patronage to dispose of. He must be
induced to accept these conditions at the start. How present this to him
in such a way as not to repel him at once? All this was needless, if
the President had only known it, but he thought himself a profound
statesman, and that his hand was guiding the destinies of America to his
own re-election. When at length, on the stroke of ten o’clock, Ratcliffe
entered the room, the President turned to him with nervous eagerness,
and almost before offering his hand, said that he hoped Mr. Ratcliffe
had come prepared to begin work at once. The Senator replied that,
if such was the President’s decided wish, he would offer no further
opposition. Then the President drew himself up in the attitude of an
American Cato, and delivered a prepared address, in which he said that
he had chosen the members of his Cabinet with a careful regard to the
public interests; that Mr. Ratcliffe was essential to the combination;
that he expected no disagreement on principles, for there was but one
principle which he should consider fundamental, namely, that there
should be no removals from office except for cause; and that under these
circumstances he counted upon Mr. Ratcliffe’s assistance as a matter of
patriotic duty.

To all this Ratcliffe assented without a word of objection, and the
President, more convinced than ever of his own masterly statesmanship,
breathed more freely than for a week past. Within ten minutes they
were actively at work together, clearing away the mass of accumulated

The relief of the Quarryman surprised himself. Ratcliffe lifted the
weight of affairs from his shoulders with hardly an effort. He knew
everybody and everything. He took most of the President’s visitors at
once into his own hands and dismissed them with great rapidity. He knew
what they wanted; he knew what recommendations were strong and what were
weak; who was to be treated with deference and who was to be sent
away abruptly; where a blunt refusal was safe, and where a pledge was
allowable. The President even trusted him with the unfinished manuscript
of the Inaugural Address, which Ratcliffe returned to him the next
day with such notes and suggestions as left nothing to be done beyond
copying them out in a fair hand. With all this, he proved himself a very
agreeable companion. He talked well and enlivened the work; he was not a
hard taskmaster, and when he saw that the President was tired, he boldly
asserted that there was no more business that could not as well wait
a day, and so took the weary Stone-cutter out to drive for a couple of
hours, and let him go peacefully to sleep in the carriage. They dined
together and Ratcliffe took care to send for Tom Lord to amuse them, for
Tom was a wit and a humourist, and kept the President in a laugh. Mr.
Lord ordered the dinner and chose the wines. He could be coarse enough
to suit even the President’s palate, and Ratcliffe was not behindhand.
When the new Secretary went away at ten o’clock that night, his chief;
who was in high good humour with his dinner, his champagne, and his
conversation, swore with some unnecessary granite oaths, that Ratcliffe
was “a clever fellow anyhow,” and he was glad “that job was fixed.”

The truth was that Ratcliffe had now precisely ten days before the new
Cabinet could be set in motion, and in these ten days he must establish
his authority over the President so firmly that nothing could shake it.
He was diligent in good works. Very soon the court began to feel his
hand. If a business letter or a written memorial came in, the President
found it easy to endorse: “Referred to the Secretary of the Treasury.”
 If a visitor wanted anything for himself or another, the invariable
reply came to be: “Just mention it to Mr. Ratcliffe;” or, “I guess
Ratcliffe will see to that.”

Before long he even made jokes in a Catonian manner; jokes that were not
peculiarly witty, but somewhat gruff and boorish, yet significant of a
resigned and self-contented mind. One morning he ordered Ratcliffe to
take an iron-clad ship of war and attack the Sioux in Montana, seeing
that he was in charge of the army and navy and Indians at once, and
Jack of all trades; and again he told a naval officer who wanted a
court-martial that he had better get Ratcliffe to sit on him for he was
a whole court-martial by himself. That Ratcliffe held his chief in no
less contempt than before, was probable but not certain, for he kept
silence on the subject before the world, and looked solemn whenever the
President was mentioned.

Before three days were over, the President, with a little more than
his usual abruptness, suddenly asked him what he knew about this
fellow Carson, whom the Pennsylvanians were bothering him to put in his
Cabinet. Ratcliffe was guarded: he scarcely knew the man; Mr. Carson
was not in politics, he believed, but was pretty respectable--for a
Pennsylvanian. The President returned to the subject several times; got
out his list of Cabinet officers and figured industriously upon it with
a rather perplexed face; called Ratcliffe to help him; and at last
the “slate” was fairly broken, and Ratcliffe’s eyes gleamed when the
President caused his list of nominations to be sent to the Senate on the
5th March, and Josiah B. Carson, of Pennsylvania, was promptly confirmed
as Secretary of the Interior.

But his eyes gleamed still more humorously when, a few days afterwards,
the President gave him a long list of some two score names, and asked
him to find places for them. He assented good-naturedly, with a remark
that it might be necessary to make a few removals to provide for these

“Oh, well,” said the President, “I guess there’s just about as many as
that had ought to go out anyway. These are friends of mine; got to be
looked after. Just stuff ‘em in somewhere.”

Even he felt a little awkward about it, and, to do him justice, this
was the last that was heard about the fundamental rule of his

Removals were fast and furious, until all Indiana became easy in
circumstances. And it was not to be denied that, by one means or
another, Ratcliffe’s friends did come into their fair share of the
public money.

Perhaps the President thought it best to wink at such use of the
Treasury patronage for the present, or was already a little overawed by
his Secretary.

Ratcliffe’s work was done. The public had, with the help of some
clever intrigue, driven its servants into the traces. Even an Indiana
stone-cutter could be taught that his personal prejudices must yield to
the public service. What mischief the selfishness, the ambition, or
the ignorance of these men might do, was another matter. As the affair
stood, the President was the victim of his own schemes. It remained to
be seen whether, at some future day, Mr. Ratcliffe would think it worth
his while to strangle his chief by some quiet Eastern intrigue, but
the time had gone by when the President could make use of either the
bow-string or the axe upon him.

All this passed while Mrs. Lee was quietly puzzling her poor little
brain about her duty and her responsibility to Ratcliffe, who,
meanwhile, rarely failed to find himself on Sunday evenings by her side
in her parlour, where his rights were now so well established that no
one presumed to contest his seat, unless it were old Jacobi, who from
time to time reminded him that he was fallible and mortal. Occasionally,
though not often, Mr. Ratcliffe came at other times, as when he
persuaded Mrs. Lee to be present at the Inauguration, and to call on the
President’s wife. Madeleine and Sybil went to the Capitol and had the
best places to see and hear the Inauguration, as well as a cold March
wind would allow. Mrs. Lee found fault with the ceremony; it was of
the earth, earthy, she said. An elderly western farmer, with silver
spectacles, new and glossy evening clothes, bony features, and stiff;
thin, gray hair, trying to address a large crowd of people, under the
drawbacks of a piercing wind and a cold in his head, was not a hero.
Sybil’s mind was lost in wondering whether the President would not soon
die of pneumonia. Even this experience, however, was happy when compared
with that of the call upon the President’s wife, after which Madeleine
decided to leave the new dynasty alone in future. The lady, who was
somewhat stout and coarse-featured, and whom Mrs. Lee declared she
wouldn’t engage as a cook, showed qualities which, seen under that
fierce light which beats upon a throne, seemed ungracious. Her antipathy
to Ratcliffe was more violent than her husband’s, and was even more
openly expressed, until the President was quite put out of countenance
by it. She extended her hostility to every one who could be supposed to
be Ratcliffe’s friend, and the newspapers, as well as private gossip,
had marked out Mrs. Lee as one who, by an alliance with Ratcliffe, was
aiming at supplanting her own rule over the White House.

Hence, when Mrs. Lightfoot Lee was announced, and the two sisters were
ushered into the presidential parlour, she put on a coldly patronizing
air, and in reply to Madeleine’s hope that she found Washington
agreeable, she intimated that there was much in Washington which struck
her as awful wicked, especially the women; and, looking at Sybil, she
spoke of the style of dress in this city which she said she meant to do
what she could to put a stop to. She’d heard tell that people sent to
Paris for their gowns, just as though America wasn’t good enough to make
one’s clothes! Jacob (all Presidents’ wives speak of their husbands by
their first names) had promised her to get a law passed against it. In
her town in Indiana, a young woman who was seen on the street in such
clothes wouldn’t be spoken to. At these remarks, made with an air and
in a temper quite unmistakable, Madeleine became exasperated beyond
measure, and said that “Washington would be pleased to see the President
do something in regard to dress-reform--or any other reform;” and with
this allusion to the President’s ante-election reform speeches, Mrs. Lee
turned her back and left the room, followed by Sybil in convulsions of
suppressed laughter, which would not have been suppressed had she seen
the face of their hostess as the door shut behind them, and the energy
with which she shook her head and said: “See if I don’t reform you yet,

Mrs. Lee gave Ratcliffe a lively account of this interview, and he
laughed nearly as convulsively as Sybil over it, though he tried to
pacify her by saying that the President’s most intimate friends openly
declared his wife to be insane, and that he himself was the person most
afraid of her. But Mrs. Lee declared that the President was as bad as
his wife; that an equally good President and President’s wife could be
picked up in any corner-grocery between the Lakes and the Ohio; and
that no inducement should ever make her go near that coarse washerwoman

Ratcliffe did not attempt to change Mrs. Lee’s opinion. Indeed he
knew better than any man how Presidents were made, and he had his
own opinions in regard to the process as well as the fabric produced.
Nothing Mrs. Lee could say now affected him. He threw off his
responsibility and she found it suddenly resting on her own shoulders.
When she spoke with indignation of the wholesale removals from office
with which the new administration marked its advent to power, he told
her the story of the President’s fundamental principle, and asked her
what she would have him do. “He meant to tie my hands,” said Ratcliffe,
“and to leave his own free, and I accepted the condition. Can I resign
now on such a ground as this?” And Madeleine was obliged to agree that
he could not. She had no means of knowing how many removals he made in
his own interest, or how far he had outwitted the President at his own
game. He stood before her a victim and a patriot. Every step he had
taken had been taken with her approval. He was now in office to prevent
what evil he could, not to be responsible for the evil that was done;
and he honestly assured her that much worse men would come in when he
went out, as the President would certainly take good care that he did go
out when the moment arrived.

Mrs. Lee had the chance now to carry out her scheme in coming to
Washington, for she was already deep in the mire of politics and
could see with every advantage how the great machine floundered about,
bespattering with mud even her own pure garments. Ratcliffe himself,
since entering the Treasury, had begun to talk with a sneer of the way
in which laws were made, and openly said that he wondered how government
got on at all. Yet he declared still that this particular government was
the highest expression of political thought. Mrs. Lee stared at him and
wondered whether he knew what thought was. To her the government seemed
to have less thought in it than one of Sybil’s gowns, for if they, like
the government, were monstrously costly, they were at least adapted to
their purpose, the parts fitted together, and they were neither awkward
nor unwieldy.

There was nothing very encouraging in all this, but it was better than
New York. At least it gave her something to look at, and to think about.
Even Lord Dunbeg preached practical philanthropy to her by the hour.
Ratcliffe, too, was compelled to drag himself out of the rut of machine
politics, and to justify his right of admission to her house. There Mr.
French discoursed at great length, until the fourth of March sent him
home to Connecticut; and he brought more than one intelligent member
of Congress to Mrs. Lee’s parlour. Underneath the scum floating on the
surface of politics, Madeleine felt that there was a sort of healthy
ocean current of honest purpose, which swept the scum before it, and
kept the mass pure.

This was enough to draw her on. She reconciled herself to accepting
the Ratcliffian morals, for she could see no choice. She herself had
approved every step she had seen him take. She could not deny that there
must be something wrong in a double standard of morality, but where was
it? Mr.

Ratcliffe seemed to her to be doing good work with as pure means as he
had at hand. He ought to be encouraged, not reviled. What was she that
she should stand in judgment?

Others watched her progress with less satisfaction. Mr. Nathan Gore was
one of these, for he came in one evening, looking much out of temper,
and, sitting down by her side he said he had come to bid good-bye and to
thank her for the kindness she had shown him; he was to leave Washington
the next morning. She too expressed her warm regret, but added that she
hoped he was only going in order to take his passage to Madrid.

He shook his head. “I am going to take my passage,” said he, “but not to
Madrid. The fates have cut that thread. The President does not want my
services, and I can’t blame him, for if our situations were reversed, I
should certainly not want his. He has an Indiana friend, who, I am told,
wanted to be postmaster at Indianapolis, but as this did not suit the
politicians, he was bought off at the exorbitant price of the Spanish
mission. But I should have no chance even if he were out of the way. The
President does not approve of me. He objects to the cut of my overcoat
which is unfortunately an English one. He also objects to the cut of my
hair. I am afraid that his wife objects to me because I am so happy as
to be thought a friend of yours.”

Madeleine could only acknowledge that Mr. Gore’s case was a bad one.
“But after all,” said she, “why should politicians be expected to love
you literary gentlemen who write history. Other criminal classes are not
expected to love their judges.”

“No, but they have sense enough to fear them,” replied Gore
vindictively; “not one politician living has the brains or the art to
defend his own cause. The ocean of history is foul with the carcases of
such statesmen, dead and forgotten except when some historian fishes one
of them up to gibbet it.”

Mr. Gore was so much out of temper that after this piece of extravagance
he was forced to pause a moment to recover himself. Then he went
on:--“You are perfectly right, and so is the President. I have no
business to be meddling in politics. It is not my place. The next time
you hear of me, I promise it shall not be as an office-seeker.”

Then he rapidly changed the subject, saying that he hoped Mrs. Lee was
soon going northward again, and that they might meet at Newport.

“I don’t know,” replied Madeleine; “the spring is pleasant here, and we
shall stay till the warm weather, I think.”

Mr. Gore looked grave. “And your politics!” said he; “are you satisfied
with what you have seen?”

“I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and wrong.
Isn’t that the first step in politics?”

Mr. Gore had no mind even for serious jesting. He broke out into a long
lecture which sounded like a chapter of some future history: “But Mrs.
Lee, is it possible that you don’t see what a wrong path you are on.
If you want to know what the world is really doing to any good purpose,
pass a winter at Samarcand, at Timbuctoo, but not at Washington. Be a
bank-clerk, or a journeyman printer, but not a Congressman. Here you
will find nothing but wasted effort and clumsy intrigue.”

“Do you think it a pity for me to learn that?” asked Madeleine when his
long essay was ended.

“No!” replied Gore, hesitating; “not if you do learn it. But many people
never get so far, or only when too late. I shall be glad to hear
that you are mistress of it and have given up reforming politics. The
Spaniards have a proverb that smells of the stable, but applies to
people like you and me: The man who washes his donkey’s head, loses time
and soap.”

Gore took his leave before Madeleine had time to grasp all the impudence
of this last speech. Not until she was fairly in bed that night did it
suddenly flash on her mind that Mr. Gore had dared to caricature her as
wasting time and soap on Mr. Ratcliffe. At first she was violently
angry and then she laughed in spite of herself; there was truth in the
portrait. In secret, too, she was the less offended because she half
thought that it had depended only on herself to make of Mr. Gore
something more than a friend. If she had overheard his parting words to
Carrington, she would have had still more reason to think that a little
jealousy of Ratcliffe’s success sharpened the barb of Gore’s enmity.

“Take care of Ratcliffe!” was his farewell; “he is a clever dog. He has
set his mark on Mrs. Lee. Look out that he doesn’t walk off with her!”

A little startled by this sudden confidence, Carrington could only ask
what he could do to prevent it.

“Cats that go ratting, don’t wear gloves,” replied Gore, who always
carried a Spanish proverb in his pocket. Carrington, after painful
reflection, could only guess that he wanted Ratcliffe’s enemies to show
their claws. But how?

Mrs. Lee not long afterwards spoke to Ratcliffe of her regret at Gore’s
disappointment and hinted at his disgust. Ratcliffe replied that he had
done what he could for Gore, and had introduced him to the President,
who, after seeing him, had sworn his usual granitic oath that he would
sooner send his nigger farm-hand Jake to Spain than that man-milliner.
“You know how I stand;” added Ratcliffe; “what more could I do?” And
Mrs. Lee’s implied reproach was silenced.

If Gore was little pleased with Ratcliffe’s conduct, poor Schneidekoupon
was still less so. He turned up again at Washington not long after
the Inauguration and had a private interview with the Secretary of the

What passed at it was known only to themselves, but, whatever it
was, Schneidekoupon’s temper was none the better for it. From his
conversations with Sybil, it seemed that there was some question about
appointments in which his protectionist friends were interested, and he
talked very openly about Ratcliffe’s want of good faith, and how he had
promised everything to everybody and had failed to keep a single pledge;
if Schneidekoupon’s advice had been taken, this wouldn’t have happened.
Mrs. Lee told Ratcliffe that Schneidekoupon seemed out of temper, and
asked the reason. He only laughed and evaded the question, remarking
that cattle of this kind were always complaining unless they were
allowed to run the whole government; Schneidekoupon had nothing
to grumble about; no one had ever made any promises to him. But
nevertheless Schneidekoupon confided to Sybil his antipathy to Ratcliffe
and solemnly begged her not to let Mrs. Lee fall into his hands, to
which Sybil answered tartly that she only wished Mr.

Schneidekoupon would tell her how to help it.

The reformer French had also been one of Ratcliffe’s backers in the
fight over the Treasury. He remained in Washington a few days after the
Inauguration, and then disappeared, leaving cards with P.P.C. in the
corner, at Mrs. Lee’s door. Rumour said that he too was disappointed,
but he kept his own counsel, and, if he really wanted the mission
to Belgium, he contented himself with waiting for it. A respectable
stage-coach proprietor from Oregon got the place.

As for Jacobi, who was not disappointed, and who had nothing to ask
for, he was bitterest of all. He formally offered his congratulations to
Ratcliffe on his appointment. This little scene occurred in Mrs.
Lee’s parlour. The old Baron, with his most suave manner, and his most
Voltairean leer, said that in all his experience, and he had seen a
great many court intrigues, he had never seen anything better managed
than that about the Treasury.

Ratcliffe was furiously angry, and told the Baron outright that foreign
ministers who insulted the governments to which they were accredited ran
a risk of being sent home.

“Ce serait toujours un pis aller,” said Jacobi, seating himself with
calmness in Ratcliffe’s favourite chair by Mrs. Lee’s side.

Madeleine, alarmed as she was, could not help interposing, and hastily
asked whether that remark was translatable.

“Ah!” said the Baron; “I can do nothing with your language. You would
only say that it was a choice of evils, to go, or to stay.”

“We might translate it by saying: ‘One may go farther and fare worse,’”
 rejoined Madeleine; and so the storm blew over for the time, and
Ratcliffe sulkily let the subject drop. Nevertheless the two men never
met in Mrs.

Lee’s parlour without her dreading a personal altercation. Little by
little, what with Jacobi’s sarcasms and Ratcliffe’s roughness, they
nearly ceased to speak, and glared at each other like quarrelsome dogs.
Madeleine was driven to all kinds of expedients to keep the peace, yet
at the same time she could not but be greatly amused by their behaviour,
and as their hatred of each other only stimulated their devotion to her,
she was content to hold an even balance between them.

Nor were these all the awkward consequences of Ratcliffe’s attentions.
Now that he was distinctly recognized as an intimate friend of Mrs.
Lee’s, and possibly her future husband, no one ventured any longer to
attack him in her presence, but nevertheless she was conscious in a
thousand ways that the atmosphere became more and more dense under
the shadow of the Secretary of the Treasury. In spite of herself she
sometimes felt uneasy, as though there were conspiracy in the air. One
March afternoon she was sitting by her fire, with an English Review in
her hand, trying to read the last Symposium on the sympathies of Eternal
Punishment, when her servant brought in a card, and Mrs. Lee had barely
time to read the name of Mrs. Samuel Baker when that lady followed the
servant into the room, forcing the countersign in so effective style
that for once Madeleine was fairly disconcerted. Her manner when thus
intruded upon, was cool, but in this case, on Carrington’s account, she
tried to smile courteously and asked her visitor to sit down, which Mrs.
Baker was doing without an invitation, very soon putting her hostess
entirely at her ease. She was, when seen without her veil, a showy woman
verging on forty, decidedly large, tall, over-dressed even in mourning,
and with a complexion rather fresher than nature had made it.

There was a geniality in her address, savouring of easy Washington ways,
a fruitiness of smile, and a rich southern accent, that explained on
the spot her success in the lobby. She looked about her with fine
self-possession, and approved Mrs. Lee’s surroundings with a cordiality
so different from the northern stinginess of praise, that Madeleine
was rather pleased than offended. Yet when her eye rested on the Corot,
Madeleine’s only pride, she was evidently perplexed, and resorted to
eye-glasses, in order, as it seemed, to gain time for reflection. But
she was not to be disconcerted even by Corot’s masterpiece:

“How pretty! Japanese, isn’t it? Sea-weeds seen through a fog. I went to
an auction yesterday, and do you know I bought a tea-pot with a picture
just like that.”

Madeleine inquired with extreme interest about the auction, but after
learning all that Mrs. Baker had to tell, she was on the point of being
reduced to silence, when she bethought herself to mention Carrington.

Baker brightened up at once, if she could be said to brighten where
there was no sign of dimness:

“Dear Mr. Carrington! Isn’t he sweet? I think he’s a delicious man. I
don’t know what I should do without him. Since poor Mr. Baker left
me, we have been together all the time. You know my poor husband left
directions that all his papers should be burned, and though I would not
say so unless you were such a friend of Mr. Carrington’s, I reckon it’s
just as well for some people that he did. I never could tell you what
quantities of papers Mr. Carrington and I have put in the fire; and we
read them all too.”

Madeleine asked whether this was not dull work.

“Oh, dear, no! You see I know all about it, and told Mr. Carrington the
story of every paper as we went on. It was quite amusing, I assure you.”

Mrs. Lee then boldly said she had got from Mr. Carrington an idea that

Baker was a very skilful diplomatist.

“Diplomatist!” echoed the widow with her genial laugh; “Well! it was as
much that as anything, but there’s not many diplomatists’ wives in this
city ever did as much work as I used to do. Why, I knew half the members
of Congress intimately, and all of them by sight. I knew where they came
from and what they liked best. I could get round the greater part of
them, sooner or later.”

Mrs. Lee asked what she did with all this knowledge. Mrs. Baker shook
her pink-and-white countenance, and almost paralysed her opposite
neighbour by a sort of Grande Duchesse wink:

“Oh, my dear! you are new here. If you had seen Washington in war-times
and for a few years afterwards, you wouldn’t ask that. We had more
congressional business than all the other agents put together. Every one
came to us then, to get his bill through, or his appropriation watched.
We were hard at work all the time. You see, one can’t keep the run of
three hundred men without some trouble. My husband used to make lists
of them in books with a history of each man and all he could learn about
him, but I carried it all in my head.”

“Do you mean that you could get them all to vote as you pleased?” asked

“Well! we got our bills through,” replied Mrs. Baker.

“But how did you do it? did they take bribes?”

“Some of them did. Some of them liked suppers and cards and theatres
and all sorts of things. Some of them could be led, and some had to be
driven like Paddy’s pig who thought he was going the other way. Some
of them had wives who could talk to them, and some--hadn’t,” said Mrs.
Baker, with a queer intonation in her abrupt ending.

“But surely,” said Mrs. Lee, “many of them must have been above--I mean,
they must have had nothing to get hold of; so that you could manage

Mrs. Baker laughed cheerfully and remarked that they were very much of a

“But I can’t understand how you did it,” urged Madeleine; “now, how
would you have gone to work to get a respectable senator’s vote--a man
like Mr. Ratcliffe, for instance?”

“Ratcliffe!” repeated Mrs. Baker with a slight elevation of voice that
gave way to a patronising laugh. “Oh, my dear! don’t mention names.
I should get into trouble. Senator Ratcliffe was a good friend of my
husband’s. I guess Mr. Carrington could have told you that. But you see,
what we generally wanted was all right enough. We had to know where
our bills were, and jog people’s elbows to get them reported in time.
Sometimes we had to convince them that our bill was a proper one, and
they ought to vote for it. Only now and then, when there was a great
deal of money and the vote was close, we had to find out what votes were
worth. It was mostly dining and talking, calling them out into the lobby
or asking them to supper. I wish I could tell you things I have seen,
but I don’t dare. It wouldn’t be safe. I’ve told you already more than
I ever said to any one else; but then you are so intimate with Mr.
Carrington, that I always think of you as an old friend.”

Thus Mrs. Baker rippled on, while Mrs. Lee listened with more and more
doubt and disgust. The woman was showy, handsome in a coarse style, and
perfectly presentable. Mrs. Lee had seen Duchesses as vulgar. She knew
more about the practical working of government than Mrs. Lee could
ever expect or hope to know. Why then draw back from this interesting
lobbyist with such babyish repulsion?

When, after a long, and, as she declared, a most charming call, Mrs.
Baker wended her way elsewhere and Madeleine had given the strictest
order that she should never be admitted again, Carrington entered, and
Madeleine showed him Mrs. Baker’s card and gave a lively account of the

“What shall I do with the woman?” she asked; “must I return her card?”
 But Carrington declined to offer advice on this interesting point. “And
she says that Mr. Ratcliffe was a friend of her husband’s and that you
could tell me about that.”

“Did she say so?” remarked Carrington vaguely.

“Yes! and that she knew every one’s weak points and could get all their

Carrington expressed no surprise, and so evidently preferred to change
the subject, that Mrs. Lee desisted and said no more.

But she determined to try the same experiment on Mr. Ratcliffe, and
chose the very next chance that offered. In her most indifferent manner
she remarked that Mrs. Sam Baker had called upon her and had initiated
her into the mysteries of the lobby till she had become quite ambitious
to start on that career.

“She said you were a friend of her husband’s,” added Madeleine softly.

Ratcliffe’s face betrayed no sign.

“If you believe what those people tell you,” said he drily, “you will be
wiser than the Queen of Sheba.”

Chapter IX

WHENEVER a man reaches the top of the political ladder, his enemies
unite to pull him down. His friends become critical and exacting. Among
the many dangers of this sort which now threatened Ratcliffe, there was
one that, had he known it, might have made him more uneasy than any
of those which were the work of senators and congressmen. Carrington
entered into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Sybil. It came
about in this wise. Sybil was fond of riding and occasionally, when
Carrington could spare the time, he went as her guide and protector in
these country excursions; for every Virginian, however out at elbows,
has a horse, as he has shoes or a shirt.

In a thoughtless moment Carrington had been drawn into a promise that he
would take Sybil to Arlington. The promise was one that he did not hurry
to keep, for there were reasons which made a visit to Arlington anything
but a pleasure to him; but Sybil would listen to no excuses, and so it
came about that, one lovely March morning, when the shrubs and the trees
in the square before the house were just beginning, under the warmer
sun, to show signs of their coming wantonness, Sybil stood at the open
window waiting for him, while her new Kentucky horse before the door
showed what he thought of the delay by curving his neck, tossing his
head, and pawing the pavement.

Carrington was late and kept her waiting so long, that the mignonette
and geraniums, which adorned the window, suffered for his slowness,
and the curtain tassels showed signs of wilful damage. Nevertheless he
arrived at length, and they set out together, choosing the streets
least enlivened by horse-cars and provision-carts, until they had crept
through the great metropolis of Georgetown and come upon the bridge
which crosses the noble river just where its bold banks open out to
clasp the city of Washington in their easy embrace. Then reaching the
Virginia side they cantered gaily up the laurel-margined road, with
glimpses of woody defiles, each carrying its trickling stream and rich
in promise of summer flowers, while from point to point they caught
glorious glimpses of the distant city and river. They passed the small
military station on the heights, still dignified by the name of
fort, though Sybil silently wondered how a fort was possible without
fortifications, and complained that there was nothing more warlike than
a “nursery of telegraph poles.” The day was blue and gold; everything
smiled and sparkled in the crisp freshness of the morning. Sybil was
in bounding spirits and not at all pleased to find that her companion
became moody and abstracted as they went on. “Poor Mr. Carrington!”
 thought she to herself, “he is so nice; but when he puts on that solemn
air, one might as well go to sleep. I am quite certain no nice woman
will ever marry him if he looks like that;” and her practical mind ran
off among all the girls of her acquaintance, in search of one who would
put up with Carrington’s melancholy face. She knew his devotion to her
sister, but had long ago rejected this as a hopeless chance. There was
a simplicity about Sybil’s way of dealing with life, which had its
own charm. She never troubled herself about the impossible or the
unthinkable. She had feelings, and was rather quick in her sympathies
and sorrows, but she was equally quick in getting over them, and she
expected other people to do likewise. Madeleine dissected her own
feelings and was always wondering whether they were real or not; she
had a habit of taking off her mental clothing, as she might take off a
dress, and looking at it as though it belonged to some one else, and as
though sensations were manufactured like clothes. This seems to be one
of the easier ways of deadening sorrow, as though the mind could
teach itself to lop off its feelers. Sybil particularly disliked this
self-inspection. In the first place she did not understand it, and in
the second her mind was all feelers, and amputation was death. She could
no more analyse a feeling than doubt its existence, both which were
habits of her sister.

How was Sybil to know what was passing in Carrington’s mind? He was
thinking of nothing in which she supposed herself interested. He was
troubled with memories of civil war and of associations still earlier,
belonging to an age already vanishing or vanished; but what could she
know about civil war who had been almost an infant at the time? At this
moment, she happened to be interested in the baffle of Waterloo, for she
was reading “Vanity Fair,” and had cried as she ought for poor little
Emmy, when her husband, George Osborne, lay dead on the field there,
with a bullet through his heart. But how was she to know that here, only
a few rods before her, lay scores and hundreds of George Osbornes, or
his betters, and in their graves the love and hope of many Emmys, not
creatures of the imagination, but flesh and blood, like herself? To her,
there was no more in those associations which made Carrington groan in
the silence of his thoughts, than if he had been old Kaspar, and she the
little Wilhelmine. What was a skull more or less to her? What concern
had she in the famous victory?

Yet even Sybil was startled as she rode through the gate and found
herself suddenly met by the long white ranks of head-stones, stretching
up and down the hill-sides by thousands, in order of baffle; as though
Cadmus had reversed his myth, and had sown living men, to come up
dragons’ teeth. She drew in her horse with a shiver and a sudden impulse
to cry. Here was something new to her. This was war--wounds, disease,
death. She dropped her voice and with a look almost as serious as
Carrington’s, asked what all these graves meant. When Carrington told
her, she began for the first time to catch some dim notion why his
face was not quite as gay as her own. Even now this idea was not very
precise, for he said little about himself, but at least she grappled
with the fact that he had actually, year after year, carried arms
against these men who lay at her feet and who had given their lives for
her cause. It suddenly occurred to her as a new thought that perhaps
he himself might have killed one of them with his own hand. There was
a strange shock in this idea. She felt that Carrington was further from
her. He gained dignity in his rebel isolation. She wanted to ask him
how he could have been a traitor, and she did not dare. Carrington a

Carrington killing her friends! The idea was too large to grasp. She
fell back on the simpler task of wondering how he had looked in his
rebel uniform.

They rode slowly round to the door of the house and dismounted, after
he had with some difficulty found a man to hold their horses. From the
heavy brick porch they looked across the superb river to the raw and
incoherent ugliness of the city, idealised into dreamy beauty by the
atmosphere, and the soft background of purple hills behind. Opposite
them, with its crude “thus saith the law” stamped on white dome and
fortress-like walls, rose the Capitol.

Carrington stood with her a short time while they looked at the view;
then said he would rather not go into the house himself, and sat down
on the steps while she strolled alone through the rooms. These were bare
and gaunt, so that she, with her feminine sense of fitness, of course
considered what she would do to make them habitable. She had a neat
fancy for furniture, and distributed her tones and half tones and bits
of colour freely about the walls and ceilings, with a high-backed
chair here, a spindle-legged sofa there, and a claw-footed table in the
centre, until her eye was caught by a very dirty deal desk, on which
stood an open book, with an inkstand and some pens. On the leaf she read
the last entry: “Eli M. Grow and lady, Thermopyle Centre.” Not even the
graves outside had brought the horrors of war so near.

What a scourge it was! This respectable family turned out of such a
lovely house, and all the pretty old furniture swept away before a horde
of coarse invaders “with ladies.” Did the hosts of Attila write their
names on visiting books in the temple of Vesta and the house of Sallust?
What a new terror they would have added to the name of the scourge of
God! Sybil returned to the portico and sat down by Carrington on the

“How awfully sad it is!” said she; “I suppose the house was prettily
furnished when the Lees lived here? Did you ever see it then?”

Sybil was not very profound, but she had sympathy, and at this moment
Carrington felt sorely in need of comfort. He wanted some one to share
his feelings, and he turned towards her hungry for companionship.

“The Lees were old family friends of mine,” said he. “I used to stay
here when I was a boy, even as late as the spring of 1861. The last time
I sat here, it was with them. We were wild about disunion and talked of
nothing else. I have been trying to recall what was said then. We
never thought there would be war, and as for coercion, it was nonsense.
Coercion, indeed! The idea was ridiculous. I thought so, too, though I
was a Union man and did not want the State to go out. But though I felt
sure that Virginia must suffer, I never thought we could be beaten. Yet
now I am sitting here a pardoned rebel, and the poor Lees are driven
away and their place is a grave-yard.”

Sybil became at once absorbed in the Lees and asked many questions, all
which Carrington gladly answered. He told her how he had admired and
followed General Lee through the war. “We thought he was to be our
Washington, you know; and perhaps he had some such idea himself;” and
then, when Sybil wanted to hear about the baffles and the fighting, he
drew a rough map on the gravel path to show her how the two lines had
run, only a few miles away; then he told her how he had carried his
musket day after day over all this country, and where he had seen his
battles. Sybil had everything to learn; the story came to her with all
the animation of real life, for here under her eyes were the graves of
her own champions, and by her side was a rebel who had stood under our
fire at Malvern Hill and at South Mountain, and who was telling her how
men looked and what they thought in face of death. She listened with
breathless interest, and at last summoned courage to ask in an awestruck
tone whether Carrington had ever killed any one himself. She was
relieved, although a little disappointed, when he said that he believed
not; he hoped not; though no private who has discharged a musket in
baffle can be quite sure where the bullet went. “I never tried to kill
any one,” said he, “though they tried to kill me incessantly.” Then
Sybil begged to know how they had tried to kill him, and he told her one
or two of those experiences, such as most soldiers have had, when he had
been fired upon and the balls had torn his clothes or drawn blood. Poor
Sybil was quite overcome, and found a deadly fascination in the horror.
As they sat together on the steps with the glorious view spread before
them, her attention was so closely fixed on his story that she saw
neither the view nor even the carriages of tourists who drove up, looked
about, and departed, envying Carrington his occupation with the lovely

She was in imagination rushing with him down the valley of Virginia on
the heels of our flying army, or gloomily toiling back to the Potomac
after the bloody days at Gettysburg, or watching the last grand debâcle
on the road from Richmond to Appomattox. They would have sat there till
sunset if Carrington had not at length insisted that they must go, and
then she rose slowly with a deep sigh and undisguised regret.

As they rode away, Carrington, whose thoughts were not devoted to his
companion so entirely as they should have been, ventured to say that he
wished her sister had come with them, but he found that his hint was not
well received.

Sybil emphatically rejected the idea: “I’m very glad she didn’t come. If
she had, you would have talked with her all the time, and I should have
been left to amuse myself. You would have been discussing things, and I
hate discussions. She would have been hunting for first principles,
and you would have been running about, trying to catch some for her.
Besides, she is coming herself some Sunday with that tiresome Mr.
Ratcliffe. I don’t see what she finds in that man to amuse her. Her
taste is getting to be demoralised in Washington. Do you know, Mr.
Carrington, I’m not clever or serious, like Madeleine, and I can’t read
laws, and hate politics, but I’ve more common sense than she has, and
she makes me cross with her. I understand now why young widows are
dangerous, and why they’re bumed at their husband’s funerals in India.
Not that I want to have Madeleine burned, for she’s a dear, good
creature, and I love her better than anything in the world; but she will
certainly do herself some dreadful mischief one of these days; she
has the most extravagant notions about self-sacrifice and duty; if she
hadn’t luckily thought of taking charge of me, she would have done some
awful thing long ago, and if I could only be a little wicked, she would
be quite happy all the rest of her life in reforming me; but now she has
got hold of that Mr. Ratcliffe, and he is trying to make her think she
can reform him, and if he does, it’s all up with us. Madeleine will just
go and break her heart over that odious, great, coarse brute, who only
wants her money.”

Sybil delivered this little oration with a degree of energy that went to
Carrington’s heart. She did not often make such sustained efforts, and
it was clear that on this subject she had exhausted her whole mind.
Carrington was delighted, and urged her on. “I dislike Mr. Ratcliffe as
much as you do;--more perhaps. So does every one who knows much about
him. But we shall only make the matter worse if we interfere. What can
we do?”

“That is just what I tell everybody,” resumed Sybil. “There is Victoria
Dare always telling me I ought to do something; and Mr. Schneidekoupon
too; just as though I could do anything. Madeleine has done nothing but
get into mischief here. Half the people think her worldly and ambitious.
Only last night that spiteful old woman, Mrs. Clinton, said to me: ‘Your
sister is quite spoiled by Washington. She is more wild for power than
any human being I ever saw.’ I was dreadfully angry and told her she was
quite mistaken--Madeleine was not the least spoiled. But I couldn’t
say that she was not fond of power, for she is; but not in the way Mrs.
Clinton meant. You should have seen her the other evening when Mr.
Ratcliffe said about some matter of public business that he would do
whatever she thought right; she spoke up quite sharply for her, with a
scornful little laugh, and said that he had better do what he thought
right. He looked for a moment almost angry, and muttered something about
women’s being incomprehensible. He is always trying to tempt her with
power. She might have had long ago all the power he could give her, but
I can see, and he sees too, that she always keeps him at arm’s length.
He doesn’t like it, but he expects one of these days to find a bribe
that will answer. I wish we had never come to Washington. New York is so
much nicer and the people there are much more amusing; they dance ever
so much better and send one flowers all the time, and then they never
talk about first principles. Maude had her hospitals and paupers and
training school, and got along very well. It was so safe. But when I say
so to her, she only smiles in a patronising kind of way, and tells me
that I shall have as much of Newport as I want; just as though I were a
child, and not a woman of twenty-five. Poor Maude! I can’t stay with her
if she marries Mr. Ratcliffe, and it would break my heart to leave her
with that man. Do you think he would beat her? Does he drink? I would
almost rather be beaten a little, if I cared for a man, than be taken
out to Peonia. Oh, Mr. Carrington! you are our only hope. She will
listen to you. Don’t let her marry that dreadful politician.”

To all this pathetic appeal, some parts of which were as little
calculated to please Carrington as Ratcliffe himself, Carrington
answered that he was ready to do all in his power but that Sybil must
tell him when and how to act.

“Then, it’s a bargain,” said she; “whenever I want you, I shall call on
you for help, and you shall prevent the marriage.”

“Alliance offensive and defensive,” said he, laughing; “war to the knife
on Ratcliffe. We will have his scalp if necessary, but I rather think he
will soon commit hari-kari himself if we leave him alone.”

“Madeleine will like him all the better if he does anything Japanese,”
 replied Sybil, with great seriousness; “I wish there was more Japanese
bric-à-brac here, or any kind of old pots and pans to talk about. A
little art would be good for her. What a strange place this is, and how
people do stand on their heads in it! Nobody thinks like anyone else.
Victoria Dare says she is trying on principle not to be good, because
she wants to keep some new excitements for the next world. I’m sure she
practices as she preaches. Did you see her at Mrs. Clinton’s last night.
She behaved more outrageously than ever. She sat on the stairs all
through supper, looking like a demure yellow cat with two bouquets in
her paws--and I know Lord Dunbeg sent one of them;--and she actually
let Mr. French feed her with ice-cream from a spoon. She says she was
showing Lord Dunbeg a phase, and that he is going to put it into his
article on American Manners and Customs in the Quarterly, but I don’t
think it’s nice, do you, Mr. Carrington? I wish Madeleine had her to
take care of. She would have enough to do then, I can tell her.”

And so, gently prattling, Miss Sybil returned to the city, her alliance
with Carrington completed; and it was a singular fact that she never
again called him dull. There was henceforward a look of more positive
pleasure and cordiality on her face when he made his appearance wherever
she might be; and the next time he suggested a horseback excursion she
instantly agreed to go, although aware that she had promised a younger
gentleman of the diplomatic body to be at home that same afternoon, and
the good fellow swore polyglot oaths on being turned away from her door.

Mr. Ratcliffe knew nothing of this conspiracy against his peace and
prospects. Even if he had known it, he might only have laughed, and
pursued his own path without a second thought. Yet it was certain that
he did not think Carrington’s enmity a thing to be overlooked, and from
the moment of his obtaining a clue to its cause, he had begun to take
precautions against it. Even in the middle of the contest for the
Treasury, he had found time to listen to Mr. Wilson Keens report on the
affairs of the late Samuel Baker.

Mr. Keen came to him with a copy of Baker’s will and with memoranda of
remarks made by the unsuspecting Mrs. Baker; “from which it appears,”
 said he, “that Baker, having no time to put his affairs in order, left
special directions that his executors should carefully destroy all
papers that might be likely to compromise individuals.”

“What is the executor’s name?” interrupted Ratcliffe.

“The executor’s name is--John Carrington,” said Keen, methodically
referring to his copy of the will.

Ratcliffe’s face was impassive, but the inevitable, “I knew it,” almost
sprang to his lips. He was rather pleased at the instinct which had led
him so directly to the right trail.

Keen went on to say that from Mrs. Baker’s conversation it was certain
that the testator’s directions had been carried out, and that the great
bulk of these papers had been burned.

“Then it will be useless to press the inquiry further,” said Ratcliffe;
“I am much obliged to you for your assistance,” and he turned the
conversation to the condition of Mr. Keen’s bureau in the Treasury

The next time Ratcliffe saw Mrs. Lee, after his appointment to
the Treasury was confirmed, he asked her whether she did not think
Carrington very well suited for public service, and when she warmly
assented, he said it had occurred to him to offer the place of Solicitor
of the Treasury to Mr.

Carrington, for although the actual salary might not be very much more
than he earned by his private practice, the incidental advantages to
a Washington lawyer were considerable; and to the Secretary it was
especially necessary to have a solicitor in whom he could place entire
confidence. Mrs. Lee was pleased by this motion of Ratcliffe’s, the more
because she had supposed that Ratcliffe had no liking for Carrington.
She doubted whether Carrington would accept the place, but she hoped
that it might modify his dislike for Ratcliffe, and she agreed to sound
him on the subject. There was something a little compromising in
thus allowing herself to appear as the dispenser of Mr. Ratcliffe’s
patronage, but she dismissed this objection on the ground that
Carrington’s interests were involved, and that it was for him to judge
whether he should take the place or not. Perhaps the world would not be
so charitable if the appointment were made. What then? Mrs. Lee asked
herself the question and did not feel quite at ease.

So far as Carrington was concerned, she might have dismissed her doubts.

There was not a chance of his taking the place, as very soon appeared.
When she spoke to him on the subject, and repeated what Ratcliffe had
said, his face flushed, and he sat for some moments in silence. He never
thought very rapidly, but now the ideas seemed to come so fast as to
bewilder his mind.

The situation flashed before his eyes like electric sparks. His first
impression was that Ratcliffe wanted to buy him; to tie his tongue; to
make him run, like a fastened dog, under the waggon of the Secretary of
the Treasury. His second notion was that Ratcliffe wanted to put Mrs.
Lee under obligations, in order to win her regard; and, again, that he
wanted to raise himself in her esteem by posing as a friend of honest
administration and unassisted virtue. Then suddenly it occurred to him
that the scheme was to make him appear jealous and vindictive; to put
him in an attitude where any reason he might give for declining would
bear a look of meanness, and tend to separate him from Mrs. Lee.
Carrington was so absorbed by these thoughts, and his mind worked so
slowly, that he failed to hear one or two remarks addressed to him by
Mrs. Lee, who became a little alarmed, under the impression that he was
unexpectedly paralyzed.

When at length he heard her and attempted to frame an answer, his
embarrassment increased. He could only stammer that he was sorry to be
obliged to decline, but this office was one he could not undertake.

If Madeleine felt a little relieved by this decision, she did not show

From her manner one might have supposed it to be her fondest wish that
Carrington should be Solicitor of the Treasury. She cross-questioned
him with obstinacy. Was not the offer a good one?--and he was obliged to
confess that it was. Were the duties such as he could not perform? Not
at all! there was nothing in the duties which alarmed him. Did he object
to it because of his southern prejudices against the administration? Oh,
no! he had no political feeling to stand in his way. What, then, could
be his reason for refusing?

Carrington resorted again to silence, until Mrs. Lee, a little
impatiently, asked whether it was possible that his personal dislike
to Racliffe could blind him so far as to make him reject so fair a
proposal. Carrington, finding himself more and more uncomfortable, rose
restlessly from his chair and paced the room. He felt that Ratclife had
fairly out-generaled him, and he was at his wits’ end to know what card
he could play that would not lead directly into Ratcliffe’s trump suit.
To refuse such an offer was hard enough at best, for a man who wanted
money and professional advancement as he did, but to injure himself and
help Ratcliffe by this refusal, was abominably hard. Nevertheless,
he was obliged to admit that he would rather not take a position so
directly under Ratcliffe’s control. Madeleine said no more, but he
thought she looked annoyed, and he felt himself in an intolerably
painful situation. He was not certain that she herself might not have
had some share in proposing the plan, and that his refusal might not
have some mortifying consequences for her. What must she think of him,

At this very moment he would have given his right arm for a word of real
affection from Mrs. Lee. He adored her. He would willingly enough have
damned himself for her. There was no sacrifice he would not have made to
bring her nearer to him. In his upright, quiet, simple kind of way, he
immolated himself before her. For months his heart had ached with this
hopeless passion. He recognized that it was hopeless. He knew that she
would never love him, and, to do her justice, she never had given him
reason to suppose that it was in her power to love him, r any man. And
here he stood, obliged to appear ungrateful and prejudiced, mean and
vindictive, in her eyes. He took his seat again, looking so unutterably
dejected, his patient face so tragically mournful, that Madeleine, after
a while, began to see the absurd side of the matter, and presently burst
into a laugh “Please do not look so frightfully miserable!” said she;
“I did not mean to make you unhappy. After all, what does it matter? You
have a perfect right to refuse, and, for my part, I have not the least
wish to see you accept.”

On this, Carrington brightened, and declared that if she thought him
right in declining, he cared for nothing else. It was only the idea of
hurting her feelings that weighed on his mind. But in saying this, he
spoke in a tone that implied a deeper feeling, and made Mrs. Lee again
look grave and sigh.

“Ah, Mr. Carrington,” she said, “this world will not run as we want.
Do you suppose the time will ever come when every one will be good and
happy and do just what they ought? I thought this offer might possibly
take one anxiety off your shoulders. I am sorry now that I let myself be
led into making it.”

Carrington could not answer her. He dared not trust his voice. He rose
to go, and as she held out her hand, he suddenly raised it to his lips,
and so left her. She sat for a moment with tears in her eyes after he
was gone. She thought she knew all that was in his mind, and with
a woman’s readiness to explain every act of men by their consuming
passions for her own sex, she took it as a matter of course that
jealousy was the whole cause of Carrington’s hostility to Ratcliffe,
and she pardoned it with charming alacrity. “Ten years ago, I could have
loved him,” she thought to herself, and then, while she was half smiling
at the idea, suddenly another thought flashed upon her, and she threw
her hand up before her face as though some one had struck her a blow.
Carrington had reopened the old wound.

When Ratcliffe came to see her again, which he did very shortly
afterwards, glad of so good an excuse, she told him of Carrington’s
refusal, adding only that he seemed unwilling to accept any position
that had a political character. Ratcliffe showed no sign of displeasure;
he only said, in a benignant tone, that he was sorry to be unable to
do something for so good a friend of hers; thus establishing, at all
events, his claim on her gratitude. As for Carrington, the offer which
Ratcliffe had made was not intended to be accepted, and Carrington
could not have more embarrassed the secretary than by closing with
it. Ratcliffe’s object had been to settle for his own satisfaction the
question of Carrington’s hostility, for he knew the man well enough to
feel sure that in any event he would act a perfectly straightforward
part. If he accepted, he would at least be true to his chief. If he
refused, as Ratcliffe expected, it would be a proof that some means must
be found of getting him out of the way. In any case the offer was a new
thread in the net that Mr. Ratcliffe flattered himself he was rapidly
winding about the affections and ambitions of Mrs. Lee. Yet he had
reasons of his own for thinking that Carrington, more easily than any
other man, could cut the meshes of this net if he chose to do so, and
therefore that it would be wiser to postpone action until Carrington
were disposed of.

Without a moment’s delay he made inquiries as to all the vacant
or eligible offices in the gift of the government outside his own
department. Very few of these would answer his purpose. He wanted some
temporary law business that would for a time take its holder away to a
distance, say to Australia or Central Asia, the further the better; it
must be highly paid, and it must be given in such a way as not to excite
suspicion that Ratcliffe was concerned in the matter. Such an office was
not easily found. There is little law business in Central Asia, and
at this moment there was not enough to require a special agent in
Australia. Carrington could hardly be induced to lead an expedition
to the sources of the Nile in search of business merely to please Mr.
Ratcliffe, nor could the State Department offer encouragement to a hope
that government would pay the expenses of such an expedition. The
best that Ratcliffe could do was to select the place of counsel to the
Mexican claims-commission which was soon to meet in the city of
Mexico, and which would require about six months’ absence. By a little
management he could contrive to get the counsel sent away in advance
of the commission, in order to work up a part of the case on the spot.
Ratcliffe acknowledged that Mexico was too near, but he drily remarked
to himself that if Carrington could get back in time to dislodge him
after he had once got a firm hold on Mrs. Lee, he would never try to run
another caucus.

The point once settled in his own mind, Ratcliffe, with his usual
rapidity of action, carried his scheme into effect. In this there was
little difficulty. He dropped in at the office of the Secretary of State
within eight-and-forty hours after his last conversation with Mrs.
Lee. During these early days of every new administration, the absorbing
business of government relates principally to appointments. The
Secretary of the Treasury was always ready to oblige his colleagues in
the Cabinet by taking care of their friends to any reasonable extent.
The Secretary of State was not less courteous. The moment he understood
that Mr. Ratcliffe had a strong wish to secure the appointment of
a certain person as counsel to the Mexican claims-commission, the
Secretary of State professed readiness to gratify him, and when he heard
who the proposed person was, the suggestion was hailed with pleasure,
for Carrington was well known and much liked at the Department, and
was indeed an excellent man for the place. Ratcliffe hardly needed to
promise an equivalent. The business was arranged in ten minutes.

“I only need say,” added Ratcliffe, “that if my agency in the affair is
known, Mr. Carrington will certainly refuse the place, for he is one of
your old-fashioned Virginia planters, proud as Lucifer, and willing
to accept nothing by way of favour. I will speak to your Assistant
Secretary about it, and the recommendation shall appear to come from

The very next day Carrington received a private note from his old
friend, the Assistant Secretary of State, who was overjoyed to do him a

The note asked him to call at the Department at his earliest
convenience. He went, and the Assistant Secretary announced that he
had recommended Carrington’s appointment as counsel to the
Mexican claims-commission, and that the Secretary had approved the
recommendation. “We want a Southern man, a lawyer with a little
knowledge of international law, one who can go at once, and, above all,
an honest man. You fit the description to a hair; so pack your trunk as
soon as you like.”

Carrington was startled. Coming as it did, this offer was not only
unobjectionable, but tempting. It was hard for him even to imagine a
reason for hesitation. From the first he felt that he must go, and yet
to go was the very last thing he wanted to do. That he should suspect
Ratcliffe to be at the bottom of this scheme of banishment was a matter
of course, and he instantly asked whether any influence had been used
in his favour; but the Assistant Secretary so stoutly averred that
the appointment was made on his recommendation alone, as to block all
further inquiry. Technically this assertion was exact, and it made
Carrington feel that it would be base ingratitude on his part not to
accept a favour so handsomely offered.

Yet he could not make up his mind to acceptance. He begged four and
twenty hours’ delay, in order, as he said, to see whether he could
arrange his affairs for a six months’ absence, although he knew there
would be no difficulty in his doing so. He went away and sat in his
office alone, gloomily wondering what he could do, although from the
first he saw that the situation was only too clear, and there could not
be the least dark corner of a doubt to crawl into. Six months ago he
would have jumped at this offer.

What had happened within six months to make it seem a disaster?

Mrs. Lee! There was the whole story. To go away now was to give up Mrs.
Lee, and probably to give her up to Ratcliffe. Carrington gnashed his
teeth when he thought how skilfully Ratcliffe was playing his cards. The
longer he reflected, the more certain he felt that Ratcliffe was at
the bottom of this scheme to get rid of him; and yet, as he studied
the situation, it occurred to him that after all it was possible for
Ratcliffe to make a blunder. This Illinois politician was clever, and
understood men; but a knowledge of men is a very different thing from
a knowledge of women. Carrington himself had no great experience in the
article of women, but he thought he knew more than Ratcliffe, who was
evidently relying most on his usual theory of political corruption as
applied to feminine weaknesses, and who was only puzzled at finding how
high a price Mrs. Lee set on herself. If Ratcliffe were really at the
bottom of the scheme for separating Carrington from her, it could only
be because he thought that six months, or even six weeks, would
be enough to answer his purpose. And on reaching this point in his
reflections, Carrington suddenly rose, lit a cigar, and walked up and
down his room steadily for the next hour, with the air of a general
arranging a plan of campaign, or a lawyer anticipating his opponent’s
line of argument.

On one point his mind was made up. He would accept. If Ratcliffe really
had a hand in this move, he should be gratified. If he had laid a trap,
he should be caught in it. And when the evening came, Carrington took
his hat and walked off to call upon Mrs. Lee.

He found the sisters alone and quietly engaged in their occupations.

Madeleine was dramatically mending an open-work silk stocking, a
delicate and difficult task which required her whole mind. Sybil was at
the piano as usual, and for the first time since he had known her, she
rose when he came in, and, taking her work-basket, sat down to share in
the conversation. She meant to take her place as a woman, henceforward.
She was tired of playing girl. Mr. Carrington should see that she was
not a fool.

Carrington plunged at once into his subject, and announced the offer
made to him, at which Madeleine expressed delight, and asked many
questions. What was the pay? How soon must he go? How long should he be
away? Was there danger from the climate? and finally she added, with a
smile, “What am I to say to Mr. Ratcliffe if you accept this offer after
refusing his?” As for Sybil, she made one reproachful exclamation: “Oh,
Mr. Carrington!” and sank back into silence and consternation. Her
first experiment at taking a stand of her own in the world was not
encouraging. She felt betrayed.

Nor was Carrington gay. However modest a man may be, only an idiot
can forget himself entirely in pursuing the moon and the stars. In the
bottom of his soul, he had a lingering hope that when he told his
story, Madeleine might look up with a change of expression, a glance
of unpremeditated regard, a little suffusion of the eyes, a little
trembling of the voice. To see himself relegated to Mexico with such
cheerful alacrity by the woman he loved was not the experience he would
have chosen. He could not help feeling that his hopes were disposed of,
and he watched her with a painful sinking of the heart, which did not
lead to lightness of conversation. Madeleine herself felt that her
expressions needed to be qualified, and she tried to correct her
mistake. What should she do without a tutor? she said. He must let her
have a list of books to read while he was away: they were themselves
going north in the middle of May, and Carrington would be back by the
time they returned in December. After all, they should see as little of
him during the summer if he were in Virginia as if he were in Mexico.

Carrington gloomily confessed that he was very unwilling to go; that he
wished the idea had never been suggested; that he should be perfectly
happy if for any reason the scheme broke down; but he gave no
explanation of his feeling, and Madeleine had too much tact to press
for one. She contented herself by arguing against it, and talking as
vivaciously as she could. Her heart really bled for him as she saw
his face grow more and more pathetic in its quiet expression of
disappointment. But what could she say or do? He sat till after ten
o’clock; he could not tear himself away. He felt that this was the end
of his pleasure in life; he dreaded the solitude of his thoughts.
Mrs. Lee’s resources began to show signs of exhaustion. Long pauses
intervened between her remarks; and at length Carrington, with a
superhuman effort, apologized for inflicting himself upon her so
unmercifully. If she knew, he said, how he dreaded being alone, she
would forgive him. Then he rose to go, and, in taking leave, asked Sybil
if she was inclined to ride the next day; if so, he was at her service.
Sybil’s face brightened as she accepted the invitation.

Mrs. Lee, a day or two afterwards, did mention Carrington’s appointment
to Mr. Ratcliffe, and she told Carrington that the Secretary certainly
looked hurt and mortified, but showed it only by almost instantly
changing the subject.

Chapter X

THE next morning Carrington called at the Department and announced his
acceptance of the post. He was told that his instructions would be ready
in about a fortnight, and that he would be expected to start as soon as
he received them; in the meanwhile, he must devote himself to the study
of a mass of papers in the Department. There was no trifling allowable

Carrington had to set himself vigorously to work. This did not, however,
prevent him from keeping his appointment with Sybil, and at four o’clock
they started together, passing out into the quiet shadows of Rock Creek,
and seeking still lanes through the woods where their horses walked side
by side, and they themselves could talk without the risk of criticism
from curious eyes. It was the afternoon of one of those sultry and
lowering spring days when life germinates rapidly, but as yet gives no
sign, except perhaps some new leaf or flower pushing its soft head
up against the dead leaves that have sheltered it. The two riders had
something of the same sensation, as though the leafless woods and
the laurel thickets, the warm, moist air and the low clouds, were a
protection and a soft shelter. Somewhat to Carrington’s surprise, he
found that it was pleasant to have Sybil’s company. He felt towards her
as to a sister--a favourite sister.

She at once attacked him for abandoning her and breaking his treaty so
lately made, and he tried to gain her sympathy by saying that if she
knew how much he was troubled, she would forgive him. Then when Sybil
asked whether he really must go and leave her without any friend whom
she could speak to, his feelings got the better of him: he could not
resist the temptation to confide all his troubles in her, since there
was no one else in whom he could confide. He told her plainly that he
was in love with her sister.

“You say that love is nonsense, Miss Ross. I tell you it is no such
thing. For weeks and months it is a steady physical pain, an ache about
the heart, never leaving one, by night or by day; a long strain on one’s
nerves like toothache or rheumatism, not intolerable at any one instant,
but exhausting by its steady drain on the strength. It is a disease to
be borne with patience, like any other nervous complaint, and to be
treated with counter-irritants. My trip to Mexico will be good for it,
but that is not the reason why I must go.”

Then he told her all his private circumstances; the ruin which the war
had brought on him and his family; how, of his two brothers, one
had survived the war only to die at home, a mere wreck of disease,
privation, and wounds; the other had been shot by his side, and bled
slowly to death in his arms during the awful carnage in the Wilderness;
how his mother and two sisters were struggling for a bare subsistence
on a wretched Virginian farm, and how all his exertions barely kept them
from beggary.

“You have no conception of the poverty to which our southern women
are reduced since the war,” said he; “they are many of them literally
without clothes or bread.” The fee he should earn by going to Mexico
would double his income this year. Could he refuse? Had he a right to
refuse? And poor Carrington added, with a groan, that if he alone were
in question, he would sooner be shot than go.

Sybil listened with tears in her eyes. She never before had seen a man
show suffering. The misery she had known in life had been more or less
veiled to her and softened by falling on older and friendly shoulders.
She now got for the first time a clear view of Carrington, apart from
the quiet exterior in which the man was hidden. She felt quite sure, by
a sudden flash of feminine inspiration, that the curious look of patient
endurance on his face was the work of a single night when he had held
his brother in his arms, and knew that the blood was draining drop by
drop from his side, in the dense, tangled woods, beyond the reach of
help, hour after hour, till the voice failed and the limbs grew stiff
and cold. When he had finished his story, she was afraid to speak. She
did not know how to show her sympathy, and she could not bear to seem
unsympathetic. In her embarrassment she fairly broke down and could only
dry her eyes in silence.

Having once got this weight of confidence off his mind, Carrington felt
comparatively gay and was ready to make the best of things. He laughed
at himself to drive away the tears of his pretty companion, and obliged
her to take a solemn pledge never to betray him. “Of course your sister
knows it all,” he said; “but she must never know that I told you, and I
never would tell any one but you.”

Sybil promised faithfully to keep his confidence to herself, and she
went on to defend her sister.

“You must not blame Madeleine,” said she; “if you knew as well as I do
what she has been through, you would not think her cold. You do know how
suddenly her husband died, after only one day’s illness, and what a nice
fellow he was. She was very fond of him, and his death seemed to stun
her. We hardly knew what to make of it, she was so quiet and natural.
Then just a week later her little child died of diphtheria, suffering
horribly, and she wild with despair because she could not relieve it.
After that, she was almost insane; indeed, I have always thought she was
quite insane for a time. I know she was excessively violent and wanted
to kill herself, and I never heard any one rave as she did about
religion and resignation and God. After a few weeks she became quiet and
stupid and went about like a machine; and at last she got over it, but
has never been what she was before. You know she was a rather fast
New York girl before she married, and cared no more about politics and
philanthropy than I do. It was a very late thing, all this stuff.
But she is not really hard, though she may seem so. It is all on the
surface. I always know when she is thinking about her husband or child,
because her face gets rigid; she looks then as she used to look after
her child died, as though she didn’t care what became of her and she
would just as lieve kill herself as not. I don’t think she will ever
let herself love any one again. She has a horror of it. She is much more
likely to go in for ambition, or duty, or self-sacrifice.”

They rode on for a while in silence, Carrington perplexed by the problem
how two harmless people such as Madeleine and he could have been made
by a beneficent Providence the sport of such cruel tortures; and Sybil
equally interested in thinking what sort of a brother-in-law Carrington
would make; on the whole, she thought she liked him better as he was.
The silence was only broken by Carrington’s bringing the conversation
back to its starting-point: “Something must be done to keep your sister
out of Ratcliffe’s power. I have thought about it till I am tired. Can
you make no suggestion?”

No! Sybil was helpless and dreadfully alarmed. Mr. Ratcliffe came to the
house as often as he could, and seemed to tell Madeleine everything
that was going on in politics, and ask her advice, and Madeleine did not
discourage him. “I do believe she likes it, and thinks she can do some
good by it. I don’t dare speak to her about it. She thinks me a child
still, and treats me as though I were fifteen. What can I do?”

Carrington said he had thought of speaking to Mrs. Lee himself, but he
did not know what to say, and if he offended her, he might drive her
directly into Ratcliffe’s arms. But Sybil thought she would not be
offended if he went to work in the right way. “She will stand more from
you than from any one else. Tell her openly that you--that you love
her,” said Sybil with a burst of desperate courage; “she can’t take
offence at that; and then you can say almost anything.”

Carrington looked at Sybil with more admiration than he had ever
expected to feel for her, and began to think that he might do worse
than to put himself under her orders. After all, she had some practical
sense, and what was more to the point, she was handsomer than ever, as
she sat erect on her horse, the rich colour rushing up under the warm
skin, at the impropriety of her speech. “You are certainly right,” said
he; “after all, I have nothing to lose. Whether she marries Ratcliffe or
not, she will never marry me, I suppose.”

This speech was a cowardly attempt to beg encouragement from Sybil,
and met with the fate it deserved, for Sybil, highly flattered at
Carrington’s implied praise, and bold as a lioness now that it was
Carrington’s fingers, and not her own, that were to go into the fire,
gave him on the spot a feminine view of the situation that did not
encourage his hopes. She plainly said that men seemed to take leave of
their senses as soon as women were concerned; for her part, she could
not understand what there was in any woman to make such a fuss about;
she thought most women were horrid; men were ever so much nicer; “and
as for Madeleine, whom all of you are ready to cut each other’s throats
about, she’s a dear, good sister, as good as gold, and I love her with
all my heart, but you wouldn’t like her, any of you, if you married her;
she has always had her own way, and she could not help taking it; she
never could learn to take yours; both of you would be unhappy in a week;
and as for that old Mr. Ratcliffe, she would make his life a burden--and
I hope she will,” concluded Sybil with a spiteful little explosion of

Carrington could not help being amused by Sybil’s way of dealing with
affairs of the heart. Emboldened by encouragement, she went on to attack
him pitilessly for going down on his knees before her sister, “just as
though you were not as good as she is,” and openly avowed that, if she
were a man, she would at least have some pride. Men like this kind of

Carrington did not attempt to defend himself; he even courted Sybil’s
attack. They both enjoyed their ride through the bare woods, by the
rippling spring streams, under the languid breath of the moist south
wind. It was a small idyll, all the more pleasant because there was
gloom before and behind it. Sybil’s irrepressible gaiety made Carrington
doubt whether, after all, life need be so serious a matter. She had
animal spirits in plenty, and it needed an effort for her to keep them
down, while Carrington’s spirits were nearly exhausted after twenty
years of strain, and he required a greater effort to hold himself up.
There was every reason why he should be grateful to Sybil for lending
to him from her superfluity. He enjoyed being laughed at by her. Suppose
Madeleine Lee did refuse to marry him! What of it?

“Pooh!” said Sybil; “you men are all just alike. How can you be so
silly? Madeleine and you would be intolerable together. Do find some one
who won’t be solemn!”

They laid out their little plot against Madeleine and elaborated it
carefully, both as to what Carrington should say and how he should say
it, for Sybil asserted that men were too stupid to be trusted even in
making a declaration of love, and must be taught, like little children
to say their prayers. Carrington enjoyed being taught how to make a
declaration of love.

He did not ask where Sybil had learned so much about men’s stupidity. He
thought perhaps Schneidekoupon could have thrown light on the subject.
At all events, they were so busily occupied with their schemes and
lessons, that they did not-reach home till Madeleine had become anxious
lest they had met with some accident. The long dusk had become darkness
before she heard the clatter of hoofs on the asphalt pavement, and she
went down to the door to scold them for their delay. Sybil only laughed
at her, and said it was all Mr. Carrington’s fault: he had lost his way,
and she had been forced to find it for him.

Ten days more passed before their plan was carried into effect. April
had come. Carrington’s work was completed and he was ready to start on
his journey. Then at last he appeared one evening at Mrs. Lee’s at the
very moment when Sybil, as chance would have it, was going out to
pass an hour or two with her friend Victoria Dare a few doors away.
Carrington felt a little ashamed as she went. This kind of conspiracy
behind Mrs. Lee’s back was not to his taste.

He resolutely sat down, and plunged at once into his subject. He was
almost ready to go, he said; he had nearly completed his work in the
Department, and he was assured that his instructions and papers would be
ready in two days more; he might not have another chance to see Mrs. Lee
so quietly again, and he wanted to take his leave now, for this was what
lay most heavily on his mind; he should have gone willingly and gladly
if it had not been for uneasiness about her; and yet he had till now
been afraid to speak openly on the subject. Here he paused for a moment
as though to invite some reply.

Madeleine laid down her work with a look of regret though not of
annoyance, and said frankly and instantly that he had been too good
a friend to allow of her taking offence at anything he could say; she
would not pretend to misunderstand him. “My affairs,” she added with a
shade of bitterness, “seem to have become public property, and I would
rather have some voice in discussing them myself than to know they are
discussed behind my back.”

This was a sharp thrust at the very outset, but Carrington turned it
aside and went quietly on:

“You are frank and loyal, as you always are. I will be so too. I can’t
help being so. For months I have had no other pleasure than in being
near you. For the first time in my life I have known what it is to
forget my own affairs in loving a woman who seems to me without a fault,
and for one solitary word from whom I would give all I have in life, and
perhaps itself.”

Madeleine flushed and bent towards him with an earnestness of manner
that repeated itself in her tone.

“Mr. Carrington, I am the best friend you have on earth. One of these
days you will thank me with your whole soul for refusing to listen to
you now. You do not know how much misery I am saving you. I have no
heart to give. You want a young, fresh life to help yours; a gay, lively
temperament to enliven your despondency; some one still young enough to
absorb herself in you and make all her existence yours. I could not do
it. I can give you nothing. I have done my best to persuade myself that
some day I might begin life again with the old hopes and feelings, but
it is no use. The fire is burned out. If you married me, you would
destroy yourself You would wake up some day, and find the universe dust
and ashes.”

Carrington listened in silence. He made no attempt to interrupt or to
contradict her. Only at the end he said with a little bitterness: “My
own life is worth so much to the world and to me, that I suppose it
would be wrong to risk it on such a venture; but I would risk it,
nevertheless, if you gave me the chance. Do you think me wicked for
tempting Providence? I do not mean to annoy you with entreaties. I have
a little pride left, and a great deal of respect for you. Yet I think,
in spite of all you have said or can say, that one disappointed life may
be as able to find happiness and repose in another, as to get them by
sucking the young life-blood of a fresh soul.”

To this speech, which was unusually figurative for Carrington, Mrs. Lee
could find no ready answer. She could only reply that Carrington’s life
was worth quite as much as his neighbour’s, and that it was worth so
much to her, if not to himself, that she would not let him wreck it.

Carrington went on: “Forgive my talking in this way. I do not mean to
complain. I shall always love you just as much, whether you care for
me or not, because you are the only woman I have ever met, or am ever
likely to meet, who seems to me perfect.”

If this was Sybil’s teaching, she had made the best of her time.

Carrington’s tone and words pierced through all Mrs. Lee’s armour as
though they were pointed with the most ingenious cruelty, and designed
to torture her. She felt hard and small before him. Life for life,
his had been, and was now, far less bright than hers, yet he was her
superior. He sat there, a true man, carrying his burden calmly, quietly,
without complaint, ready to face the next shock of life with the same
endurance he had shown against the rest. And he thought her perfect!
She felt humiliated that any brave man should say to her face that he
thought her perfect! She! perfect! In her contrition she was half ready
to go down at his feet and confess her sins; her hysterical dread of
sorrow and suffering, her narrow sympathies, her feeble faith, her
miserable selfishness, her abject cowardice. Every nerve in her body
tingled with shame when she thought what a miserable fraud she was; what
a mass of pretensions unfounded, of deceit ingrained. She was ready to
hide her face in her hands. She was disgusted, outraged with her own
image as she saw it, contrasted with Carrington’s single word: Perfect!

Nor was this the worst. Carrington was not the first man who had thought
her perfect. To hear this word suddenly used again, which had never been
uttered to her before except by lips now dead and gone, made her brain
reel. She seemed to hear her husband once more telling her that she was
perfect. Yet against this torture, she had a better defence. She had
long since hardened herself to bear these recollections, and they
steadied and strengthened her.

She had been called perfect before now, and what had come of it? Two
graves, and a broken life! She drew herself up with a face now grown
quite pale and rigid. In reply to Carrington, she said not a word, but
only shook her head slightly without looking at him.

He went on: “After all, it is not my own happiness I am thinking of but
yours. I never was vain enough to think that I was worth your love, or
that I could ever win it. Your happiness is another thing. I care so
much for that as to make me dread going away, for fear that you may
yet find yourself entangled in this wretched political life here, when,
perhaps if I stayed, I might be of some use.”

“Do you really think, then, that I am going to fall a victim to Mr.
Ratcliffe?” asked Madeleine, with a cold smile.

“Why not?” replied Carrington, in a similar tone. “He can put forward
a strong claim to your sympathy and help, if not to your love. He can
offer you a great field of usefulness which you want. He has been very
faithful to you. Are you quite sure that even now you can refuse him
without his complaining that you have trifled with him?”

“And are you quite sure,” added Mrs. Lee, evasively, “that you have not
been judging him much too harshly? I think I know him better than you.
He has many good qualities, and some high ones. What harm can he do me?
Supposing even that he did succeed in persuading me that my life could
be best used in helping his, why should I be afraid of it?”

“You and I,” said Carrington, “are wide apart in our estimates of Mr.
Ratcliffe. To you, of course, he shows his best side. He is on his good
behaviour, and knows that any false step will ruin him. I see in him
only a coarse, selfish, unprincipled politician, who would either drag
you down to his own level, or, what is more likely, would very soon
disgust you and make your life a wretched self-immolation before his
vulgar ambition, or compel you to leave him. In either case you would
be the victim. You cannot afford to make another false start in life.
Reject me! I have not a word to say against it. But be on your guard
against giving your existence up to him.”

“Why do you think so ill of Mr. Ratcliffe?” asked Madeleine; “he always
speaks highly of you. Do you know anything against him that the world
does not?”

“His public acts are enough to satisfy me,” replied Carrington, evading
a part of the question. “You know that I have never had but one opinion
about him.”

There was a pause in the conversation. Both parties felt that as yet no
good had come of it. At length Madeleine asked, “What would you have me
do? Is it a pledge you want that I will under no circumstances marry Mr.

“Certainly not,” was the answer; “you know me better than to think
I would ask that. I only want you to take time and keep out of his
influence until your mind is fairly made up. A year hence I feel certain
that you will think of him as I do.”

“Then you will allow me to marry him if I find that you are mistaken,”
 said Mrs. Lee, with a marked tone of sarcasm.

Carrington looked annoyed, but he answered quietly, “What I fear is
his influence here and now. What I would like to see you do is this: go
north a month earlier than you intended, and without giving him time
to act. If I were sure you were safely in Newport, I should feel no

“You seem to have as bad an opinion of Washington as Mr. Gore,” said
Madeleine, with a contemptuous smile. “He gave me the same advice,
though he was afraid to tell me why. I am not a child. I am thirty years
old, and have seen something of the world. I am not afraid, like Mr.
Gore, of Washington malaria, or, like you, of Mr. Ratcliffe’s influence.
If I fall a victim I shall deserve my fate, and certainly I shall have
no cause to complain of my friends. They have given me advice enough for
a lifetime.”

Carrington’s face darkened with a deeper shade of regret. The turn which
the conversation had taken was precisely what he had expected, and both
Sybil and he had agreed that Madeleine would probably answer just in
this way.

Nevertheless, he could not but feel acutely the harm he was doing to
his own interests, and it was only by a sheer effort of the will that he
forced himself to a last and more earnest attack.

“I know it is an impertinence,” he said; “I wish it were in my power to
show how much it costs me to offend you. This is the first time you
ever had occasion to be offended. If I were to yield to the fear of
your anger and were to hold my tongue now, and by any chance you were
to wreck your life on this rock, I should never forgive myself the
cowardice. I should always think I might have done something to prevent
it. This is probably the last time I shall have the chance to talk
openly with you, and I implore you to listen to me. I want nothing for
myself If I knew I should never see you again, I would still say the
same thing. Leave Washington! Leave it now!--at once!--without giving
more than twenty-four hours’ notice! Leave it without letting Mr.
Ratcliffe see you again in private! Come back next winter if you please,
and then accept him if you think proper. I only pray you to think long
about it and decide when you are not here.”

Madeleine’s eyes flashed, and she threw aside her embroidery with an
impatient gesture: “No! Mr. Carrington! I will not be dictated to! I
will carry out my own plans! I do not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe. If I
had meant it, I should have done it before now. But I will not run away
from him or from myself. It would be unladylike, undignified, cowardly.”

Carrington could say no more. He had come to the end of his lesson. A
long silence ensued and then he rose to go. “Are you angry with me?”
 said she in a softer tone.

“I ought to ask that question,” said he. “Can you forgive me? I am
afraid not. No man can say to a woman what I have said to you, and be
quite forgiven. You will never think of me again as you would have done
if I had not spoken. I knew that before I did it. As for me, I can only
go on with my old life. It is not gay, and will not be the gayer for our
talk to-night.”

Madeleine relented a little: “Friendships like ours are not so easily
broken,” she said. “Do not do me another injustice. You will see me
again before you go?”

He assented and bade good-night. Mrs. Lee, weary and disturbed in mind,
hastened to her room. “When Miss Sybil comes in, tell her that I am not
very well, and have gone to bed,” were her instructions to her maid, and
Sybil thought she knew the cause of this headache.

But before Carrington’s departure he had one more ride with Sybil,
and reported to her the result of the interview, at which both of them
confessed themselves much depressed. Carrington expressed some hope that
Madeleine meant, after a sort, to give a kind of pledge by saying that
she had no intention of marrying Mr. Ratcliffe, but Sybil shook her head

“How can a woman tell whether she is going to accept a man until she is
asked?” said she with entire confidence, as though she were stating the
simplest fact in the world. Carrington looked puzzled, and ventured to
ask whether women did not generally make up their minds beforehand on
such an interesting point; but Sybil overwhelmed him with contempt:
“What good will they do by making up their minds, I should like to
know? of course they would go and do the opposite. Sensible women don’t
pretend to make up their minds, Mr. Carrington. But you men are so
stupid, and you can’t understand in the least.”

Carrington gave it up, and went back to his stale question: Could Sybil
suggest any other resource? and Sybil sadly confessed that she could
not. So far as she could see, they must trust to luck, and she thought
it was cruel tor Mr. Carrington to go away and leave her alone without
help. He had promised to prevent the marriage.

“One thing more I mean to do,” said Carrington: “and here everything
will depend on your courage and nerve. You may depend upon it that Mr.
Ratcliffe will offer himself before you go north. He does not suspect
you of making trouble, and he will not think about you in any way if you
let him alone and keep quiet. When he does offer himself you will know
it; at least your sister will tell you if she has accepted him. If she
refuses him point blank, you will have nothing to do but to keep her
steady. If you see her hesitating, you must break in at any cost, and
use all your influence to stop her. Be bold, then, and do your best. If
everything fails and she still clings to him, I must play my last card,
or rather you must play it for me. I shall leave with you a sealed
letter which you are to give her if everything else fails. Do it before
she sees Ratcliffe a second time. See that she reads it and, if
necessary, make her read it, no matter when or where. No one else must
know that it exists, and you must take as much care of it as though it
were a diamond. You are not to know what is in it; it must be a complete
secret. Do you understand?”

Sybil thought she did, but her heart sank. “When shall you give me this
letter?” she asked.

“The evening before I start, when I come to bid good-bye; probably next
Sunday. This letter is our last hope. If, after reading that, she does
not give him up, you will have to pack your trunk, my dear Sybil, and
find a new home, for you can never live with them.”

He had never before called her by her first name, and it pleased her
to hear it now, though she generally had a strong objection to such

“Oh, I wish you were not going!” she exclaimed tearfully. “What shall I
do when you are gone?”

At this pitiful appeal, Carrington felt a sudden pang. He found that
he was not so old as he had thought. Certainly he had grown to like her
frank honesty and sound common sense, and he had at length discovered
that she was handsome, with a very pretty figure. Was it not something
like a flirtation he had been carrying on with this young person for the
last month? A glimmering of suspicion crossed his mind, though he got
rid of it as quickly as possible. For a man of his age and sobriety
to be in love with two sisters at once was impossible; still more
impossible that Sybil should care for him.

As for her, however, there was no doubt about the matter. She had grown
to depend upon him, and she did it with all the blind confidence of
youth. To lose him was a serious disaster. She had never before felt
the sensation, and she thought it most disagreeable. Her youthful
diplomatists and admirers could not at all fill Carrington’s place. They
danced and chirruped cheerfully on the hollow crust of society, but they
were wholly useless when one suddenly fell through and found oneself
struggling in the darkness and dangers beneath. Young women, too, are
apt to be flattered by the confidences of older men; they have a keen
palate for whatever savours of experience and adventure. For the first
time in her life, Sybil had found a man who gave some play to her
imagination; one who had been a rebel, and had grown used to the shocks
of fate, so as to walk with calmness into the face of death, and to
command or obey with equal indifference. She felt that he would tell her
what to do when the earthquake came, and would be at hand to consult,
which is in a woman’s eyes the great object of men’s existence,
when trouble comes. She suddenly conceived that Washington would be
intolerable without him, and that she should never get the courage to
fight Mr. Ratcliffe alone, or, if she did, she should make some fatal

They finished their ride very soberly. She began to show a new interest
in all that concerned him, and asked many questions about his sisters
and their plantation. She wanted to ask him whether she could not do
something to help them, but this seemed too awkward. On his part he
made her promise to write him faithfully all that took place, and
this request pleased her, though she knew his interest was all on her
sister’s account.

The following Sunday evening when he came to bid good-bye, it was still
worse. There was no chance for private talk. Ratcliffe was there, and
several diplomatists, including old Jacobi, who had eyes like a cat
and saw every motion of one’s face. Victoria Dare was on the sofa,
chattering with Lord Dunbeg; Sybil would rather have had any ordinary
illness, even to the extent of a light case of scarlet fever or
small-pox than let her know what was the matter. Carrington found means
to get Sybil into another room for a moment and to give her the letter
he had promised. Then he bade her good-bye, and in doing so he reminded
her of her promise to write, pressing her hand and looking into her eyes
with an earnestness that made her heart beat faster, although she
said to herself that his interest was all about her sister; as it
was--mostly. The thought did not raise her spirits, but she went through
with her performance like a heroine. Perhaps she was a little pleased to
see that he parted from Madeleine with much less apparent feeling. One
would have said that they were two good friends who had no troublesome
sentiment to worry them. But then every eye in the room was watching
this farewell, and speculating about it. Ratcliffe looked on with
particular interest and was a little perplexed to account for this too
fraternal cordiality. Could he have made a miscalculation? or was there
something behind? He himself insisted upon shaking hands genially with
Carrington and wished him a pleasant journey and a successful one.

That night, for the first time since she was a child, Sybil actually
cried a little after she went to bed, although it is true that her
sentiment did not keep her awake. She felt lonely and weighed down by a
great responsibility.

For a day or two afterwards she was nervous and restless. She would
not ride, or make calls, or see guests. She tried to sing a little, and
found it tiresome. She went out and sat for hours in the Square, where
the spring sun was shining warm and bright on the prancing horse of the
great Andrew Jackson. She was a little cross, too, and absent, and spoke
so often about Carrington that at last Madeleine was struck by sudden
suspicion, and began to watch her with anxious care.

Tuesday night, after this had gone on for two days, Sybil was in
Madeleine’s room, where she often stayed to talk while her sister was at
her toilet.

This evening she threw herself listlessly on the couch, and within five
minutes again quoted Carrington. Madeleine turned from the glass before
which she was sitting, and looked her steadily in the face.

“Sybil,” said she, “this is the twenty-fourth time you have mentioned
Mr. Carrington since we sat down to dinner. I have waited for the round
number to decide whether I should take any notice of it or not? what
does it mean, my child? Do you care for Mr. Carrington?”

“Oh, Maude!” exclaimed Sybil reproachfully, flushing so violently that,
even by that dim light, her sister could not but see it.

Mrs. Lee rose and, crossing the room, sat down by Sybil who was lying
on the couch and turned her face away. Madeleine put her arms round her
neck and kissed her.

“My poor--poor child!” said she pityingly. “I never dreamed of this!
What a fool I have been! How could I have been so thoughtless! Tell me!”
 she added, with a little hesitation; “has he--does he care for you?”

“No! no!” cried Sybil, fairly breaking down into a burst of tears; “no!
he loves you! nobody but you! he never gave a thought to me. I don’t
care for him so very much,” she continued, drying her tears; “only it
seems so lonely now he is gone.”

Mrs. Lee remained on the couch, with her arm round her sister’s
neck, silent, gazing into vacancy, the picture of perplexity and

The situation was getting beyond her control.

Chapter XI

IN the middle of April a sudden social excitement started the
indolent city of Washington to its feet. The Grand-Duke and Duchess of
Saxe-Baden-Hombourg arrived in America on a tour of pleasure, and in
due course came on to pay their respects to the Chief Magistrate of
the Union. The newspapers hastened to inform their readers that the
Grand-Duchess was a royal princess of England, and, in the want of any
other social event, every one who had any sense of what was due to his
or her own dignity, hastened to show this august couple the respect
which all republicans who have a large income derived from business,
feel for English royalty. New York gave a dinner, at which the most
insignificant person present was worth at least a million dollars, and
where the gentlemen who sat by the Princess entertained her for an hour
or two by a calculation of the aggregate capital represented. New York
also gave a ball at which the Princess appeared in an ill-fitting black
silk dress with mock lace and jet ornaments, among several hundred
toilets that proclaimed the refined republican simplicity of their
owners at a cost of various hundred thousand dollars. After these
hospitalities the Grand-ducal pair came on to Washington, where they
became guests of Lord Skye, or, more properly, Lord Skye became their
guest, for he seemed to consider that he handed the Legation over to
them, and he told Mrs. Lee, with true British bluntness of speech,
that they were a great bore and he wished they had stayed in
Saxe-Baden-Hombourg, or wherever they belonged, but as they were here,
he must be their lackey. Mrs. Lee was amused and a little astonished at
the candour with which he talked about them, and she was instructed
and improved by his dry account of the Princess, who, it seemed, made
herself disagreeable by her airs of royalty; who had suffered dreadfully
from the voyage; and who detested America and everything American; but
who was, not without some show of reason, jealous of her husband, and
endured endless sufferings, though with a very bad grace, rather than
lose sight of him.

Not only was Lord Skye obliged to turn the Legation into an hotel, but
in the full enthusiasm of his loyalty he felt himself called upon to
give a ball. It was, he said, the easiest way of paying off all his
debts at once, and if the Princess was good for nothing else, she could
be utilized as a show by way of “promoting the harmony of the two great
nations.” In other words, Lord Skye meant to exhibit the Princess for
his own diplomatic benefit, and he did so. One would have thought that
at this season, when Congress had adjourned, Washington would hardly
have afforded society enough to fill a ball-room, but this, instead of
being a drawback, was an advantage. It permitted the British Minister to
issue invitations without limit. He asked not only the President and
his Cabinet, and the judges, and the army, and the navy, and all the
residents of Washington who had any claim to consideration, but also all
the senators, all the representatives in Congress, all the governors
of States with their staffs, if they had any, all eminent citizens
and their families throughout the Union and Canada, and finally every
private individual, from the North Pole to the Isthmus of Panama, who
had ever shown him a civility or was able to control interest enough
to ask for a card. The result was that Baltimore promised to come in
a body, and Philadelphia was equally well-disposed; New York provided
several scores of guests, and Boston sent the governor and a delegation;
even the well-known millionaire who represented California in the United
States Senate was irritated because, his invitation having been timed to
arrive just one day too late, he was prevented from bringing his family
across the continent with a choice party in a director’s car, to
enjoy the smiles of royalty in the halls of the British lion. It is
astonishing what efforts freemen will make in a just cause.

Lord Skye himself treated the whole affair with easy contempt. One
afternoon he strolled into Mrs. Lee’s parlour and begged her to give him
a cup of tea.

He said he had got rid of his menagerie for a few hours by shunting
it off upon the German Legation, and he was by way of wanting a little
human society. Sybil, who was a great favourite with him, entreated to
be told all about the ball, but he insisted that he knew no more than
she did. A man from New York had taken possession of the Legation, but
what he would do with it was not within the foresight of the wisest;
trom the talk of the young members of his Legation, Lord Skye gathered
that the entire city was to be roofed in and forty millions of people
expected, but his own concern in the affair was limited to the flowers
he hoped to receive.

“All young and beautiful women,” said he to Sybil, “are to send me
flowers. I prefer Jacqueminot roses, but will accept any handsome
variety, provided they are not wired. It is diplomatic etiquette that
each lady who sends me flowers shall reserve at least one dance for me.
You will please inscribe this at once upon your tablets, Miss Ross.”

To Madeleine this ball was a godsend, for it came just in time to
divert Sybil’s mind from its troubles. A week had now passed since that
revelation of Sybil’s heart which had come like an earthquake upon
Mrs. Lee. Since then Sybil had been nervous and irritable, all the more
because she was conscious of being watched. She was in secret ashamed of
her own conduct, and inclined to be angry with Carrington, as though
he were responsible for her foolishness; but she could not talk
with Madeleine on the subject without discussing Mr. Ratcliffe, and
Carrington had expressly forbidden her to attack Mr. Ratcliffe until it
was clear that Ratcliffe had laid himself open to attack. This reticence
deceived poor Mrs. Lee, who saw in her sister’s moods only that
unrequited attachment for which she held herself solely to blame. Her
gross negligence in allowing Sybil to be improperly exposed to such
a risk weighed heavily on her mind. With a saint’s capacity for
self-torment, Madeleine wielded the scourge over her own back until the
blood came. She saw the roses rapidly fading from Sybil’s cheeks, and
by the help of an active imagination she discovered a hectic look
and symptoms of a cough. She became fairly morbid on the subject,
and fretted herself into a fever, upon which Sybil sent, on her own
responsibility, for the medical man, and Madeleine was obliged to dose
herself with quinine. In fact, there was much more reason for anxiety
about her than for her anxiety about Sybil, who, barring a little
youthful nervousness in the face of responsibility, was as healthy
and comfortable a young woman as could be shown in America, and whose
sentiment never cost her five minutes’ sleep, although her appetite may
have become a shade more exacting than before. Madeleine was quick to
notice this, and surprised her cook by making daily and almost hourly
demands for new and impossible dishes, which she exhausted a library of
cookery-books to discover.

Lord Skye’s ball and Sybil’s interest in it were a great relief to
Madeleine’s mind, and she now turned her whole soul to frivolity. Never,
since she was seventeen, had she thought or talked so much about a ball,
as now about this ball to the Grand-Duchess. She wore out her own brain
in the effort to amuse Sybil. She took her to call on the Princess;
she would have taken her to call on the Grand Lama had he come to
Washington. She instigated her to order and send to Lord Skye a mass of
the handsomest roses New York could afford. She set her at work on her
dress several days before there was any occasion for it, and this famous
costume had to be taken out, examined, criticised, and discussed with
unending interest. She talked about the dress, and the Princess, and
the ball, till her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth, and her brain
refused to act. From morning till night, for one entire week, she ate,
drank, breathed, and dreamt of the ball. Everything that love could
suggest or labour carry out, she did, to amuse and occupy her sister.

She knew that all this was only temporary and palliative, and that more
radical measures must be taken to secure Sybil’s happiness. On this
subject she thought in secret until both head and heart ached. One thing
and one thing only was clear: if Sybil loved Carrington, she should
have him. How Madeleine expected to bring about this change of heart
in Carrington, was known only to herself. She regarded men as creatures
made for women to dispose of, and capable of being transferred like
checks, or baggage-labels, from one woman to another, as desired. The
only condition was that he should first be completely disabused of the
notion that he could dispose of himself. Mrs. Lee never doubted that she
could make Carrington fall in love with Sybil provided she could place
herself beyond his reach. At all events, come what might, even though
she had to accept the desperate alternative offered by Mr. Ratcliffe,
nothing should be allowed to interfere with Sybil’s happiness. And thus
it was, that, for the first time, Mrs. Lee began to ask herself whether
it was not better to find the solution of her perplexities in marriage.

Would she ever have been brought to this point without the violent
pressure of her sister’s supposed interests? This is one of those
questions which wise men will not ask, because it is one which the
wisest man or woman cannot answer. Upon this theme, an army of ingenious
authors have exhausted their ingenuity in entertaining the public, and
their works are to be found at every book-stall. They have decided that
any woman will, under the right conditions, marry any man at any time,
provided her “higher nature” is properly appealed to. Only with regret
can a writer forbear to moralize on this subject. “Beauty and the
Beast,” “Bluebeard,” “Auld Robin Gray,” have the double charm to
authors of being very pleasant to read, and still easier to dilute with
sentiment. But at least ten thousand modern writers, with Lord Macaulay
at their head, have so ravaged and despoiled the region of fairy-stories
and fables, that an allusion even to the “Arabian Nights” is no longer
decent. The capacity of women to make unsuitable marriages must be
considered as the corner-stone of society.

Meanwhile the ball had, in truth, very nearly driven all thought of
Carrington out of Sybil’s mind. The city filled again. The streets
swarmed with fashionable young men and women from the provinces of New
York, Philadelphia, and Boston, who gave Sybil abundance of occupation.
She received bulletins of the progress of affairs. The President and
his wife had consented to be present, out of their high respect for
Her Majesty the Queen and their desire to see and to be seen. All the
Cabinet would accompany the Chief Magistrate. The diplomatic corps
would appear in uniform; so, too, the officers of the army and navy; the
Governor-General of Canada was coming, with a staff. Lord Skye remarked
that the Governor-General was a flat.

The day of the ball was a day of anxiety to Sybil, although not on
account of Mr. Ratcliffe or of Mr. Carrington, who were of trifling
consequence compared with the serious problem now before her. The
responsibility of dressing both her sister and herself fell upon Sybil,
who was the real author of all Mrs. Lee’s millinery triumphs when
they now occurred, except that Madeleine managed to put character into
whatever she wore, which Sybil repudiated on her own account. On
this day Sybil had reasons for special excitement. All winter two new
dresses, one especially a triumph of Mr.

Worth’s art, had lain in state upstairs, and Sybil had waited in vain
for an occasion that should warrant the splendour of these garments.

One afternoon in early June of the preceding summer, Mr. Worth had
received a letter on the part of the reigning favourite of the King
of Dahomey, directing him to create for her a ball-dress that should
annihilate and utterly destroy with jealousy and despair the hearts of
her seventy-five rivals; she was young and beautiful; expense was not a
consideration. Such were the words of her chamberlain. All that night,
the great genius of the nineteenth century tossed wakefully on his bed
revolving the problem in his mind. Visions of flesh-coloured tints shot
with blood-red perturbed his brain, but he fought against and dismissed
them; that combination would be commonplace in Dahomey. When the first
rays of sunlight showed him the reflection of his careworn face in the
plate-glass mirrored ceiling, he rose and, with an impulse of despair,
flung open the casements. There before his blood-shot eyes lay the pure,
still, new-born, radiant June morning. With a cry of inspiration the
great man leaned out of the casement and rapidly caught the details of
his new conception. Before ten o’clock he was again at his bureau in
Paris. An imperious order brought to his private room every silk, satin,
and gauze within the range of pale pink, pale crocus, pale green, silver
and azure. Then came chromatic scales of colour; combinations meant to
vulgarise the rainbow; sinfonies and fugues; the twittering of birds and
the great peace of dewy nature; maidenhood in her awakening innocence;
“The Dawn in June.” The Master rested content.

A week later came an order from Sybil, including “an entirely original
ball-dress,--unlike any other sent to America.” Mr. Worth pondered,
hesitated; recalled Sybil’s figure; the original pose of her head;
glanced anxiously at the map, and speculated whether the New York Herald
had a special correspondent at Dahomey; and at last, with a generosity
peculiar to great souls, he duplicated for “Miss S. Ross, New York, U.S.
America,” the order for “L’Aube, Mois de Juin.”

The Schneidekoupons and Mr. French, who had reappeared in Washington,
came to dine with Mrs. Lee on the evening of the ball, and Julia
Schneidekoupon sought in vain to discover what Sybil was going to wear.
“Be happy, my dear, in your ignorance!” said Sybil; “the pangs of envy
will rankle soon enough.”

An hour later her room, except the fireplace, where a wood fire was
gently smouldering, became an altar of sacrifice to the Deity of Dawn in
June. Her bed, her low couch, her little tables, her chintz arm-chairs,
were covered with portions of the divinity, down to slippers and
handkerchief, gloves and bunches of fresh roses. When at length, after
a long effort, the work was complete, Mrs. Lee took a last critical
look at the result, and enjoyed a glow of satisfaction. Young, happy,
sparkling with consciousness of youth and beauty, Sybil stood, Hebe
Anadyomene, rising from the foam of soft creplisse which swept back
beneath the long train of pale, tender, pink silk, fainting into
breadths of delicate primrose, relieved here and there by facings of
June green--or was it the blue of early morning?--or both? suggesting
unutterable freshness. A modest hint from her maid that “the girls,”
 as women-servants call each other in American households, would like to
offer their share of incense at the shrine, was amiably met, and they
were allowed a glimpse of the divinity before she was enveloped in
wraps. An admiring group, huddled in the doorway, murmured approval,
from the leading “girl,” who was the cook, a coloured widow of some
sixty winters, whose admiration was irrepressible, down to a New England
spinster whose Anabaptist conscience wrestled with her instincts, and
who, although disapproving of “French folks,” paid in her heart that
secret homage to their gowns and bonnets which her sterner lips refused.
The applause of this audience has, from generation to generation,
cheered the hearts of myriads of young women starting out on their
little adventures, while the domestic laurels flourish green and fresh
for one half hour, until they wither at the threshold of the ball-room.

Mrs. Lee toiled long and earnestly over her sister’s toilet, for had not
she herself in her own day been the best-dressed girl in New York?--at
least, she held that opinion, and her old instincts came to life again
whenever Sybil was to be prepared for any great occasion. Madeleine
kissed her sister affectionately, and gave her unusual praise when
the “Dawn in June” was complete. Sybil was at this moment the ideal of
blooming youth, and Mrs. Lee almost dared to hope that her heart was
not permanently broken, and that she might yet survive until Carrington
could be brought back. Her own toilet was a much shorter affair, but
Sybil was impatient long before it was concluded; the carriage was
waiting, and she was obliged to disappoint her household by coming down
enveloped in her long opera-cloak, and hurrying away.

When at length the sisters entered the reception-room at the British
Legation, Lord Skye rebuked them for not having come early to receive
with him. His Lordship, with a huge riband across his breast, and a star
on his coat, condescended to express himself vigorously on the subject
of the “Dawn in June.” Schneidekoupon, who was proud of his easy use
of the latest artistic jargon, looked with respect at Mrs. Lee’s
silver-gray satin and its Venetian lace, the arrangement of which
had been conscientiously stolen from a picture in the Louvre, and
he murmured audibly, “Nocturne in silver-gray!”--then, turning to
Sybil--“and you? Of course! I see! A song without words!” Mr. French
came up and, in his most fascinating tones, exclaimed, “Why, Mrs. Lee,
you look real handsome to-night!” Jacobi, after a close scrutiny, said
that he took the liberty of an old man in telling them that they were
both dressed absolutely without fault. Even the Grand-Duke was struck
by Sybil, and made Lord Skye introduce him, after which ceremony he
terrified her by asking the pleasure of a waltz. She disappeared from
Madeleine’s view, not to be brought back again until Dawn met dawn.

The ball was, as the newspapers declared, a brilliant success. Every one
who knows the city of Washington will recollect that, among some scores
of magnificent residences which our own and foreign governments have
built for the comfort of cabinet officers, judges, diplomatists,
vice-presidents, speakers, and senators, the British Legation is by far
the most impressive.

Combining in one harmonious whole the proportions of the Pitti Palace
with the decoration of the Casa d’Oro and the dome of an Eastern Mosque,
this architectural triumph offers extraordinary resources for society.
Further description is unnecessary, since anyone may easily refer back
to the New York newspapers of the following morning, where accurate
plans of the house on the ground floor, will be found; while the
illustrated newspapers of the same week contain excellent sketches of
the most pleasing scenic effects, as well as of the ball-room and of the
Princess smiling graciously from her throne. The lady just behind
the Princess on her left, is Mrs. Lee, a poor likeness, but easily
distinguishable from the fact that the artist, for his own objects,
has made her rather shorter, and the Princess rather taller, than was
strictly correct, just as he has given the Princess a gracious smile,
which was quite different from her actual expression. In short, the
artist is compelled to exhibit the world rather as we would wish it to
be, than as it was or is, or, indeed, is like shortly to become. The
strangest part of his picture is, however, the fact that he actually did
see Mrs. Lee where he has put her, at the Princess’s elbow, which was
almost the last place in the room where any one who knew Mrs. Lee would
have looked for her.

The explanation of this curious accident shall be given immediately,
since the facts are not mentioned in the public reports of the
ball, which only said that, “close behind her Royal Highness the
Grand-Duchess, stood our charming and aristocratic countrywoman, Mrs.
Lightfoot Lee, who has made so great a sensation in Washington this
winter, and whose name public rumour has connected with that of the
Secretary of the Treasury. To her the Princess appeared to address most
of her conversation.”

The show was a very pretty one, and on a pleasant April evening there
were many places less agreeable to be in than this. Much ground outside
had been roofed over, to make a ball-room, large as an opera-house, with
a daïs and a sofa in the centre of one long side, and another daïs with
a second sofa immediately opposite to it in the centre of the other long
side. Each daïs had a canopy of red velvet, one bearing the Lion and the
Unicorn, the other the American Eagle. The Royal Standard was displayed
above the Unicorn; the Stars-and-Stripes, not quite so effectively,
waved above the Eagle. The Princess, being no longer quite a child,
found gas trying to her complexion, and compelled Lord Skye to
illuminate her beauty by one hundred thousand wax candies, more or less,
which were arranged to be becoming about the Grand-ducal throne, and to
be showy and unbecoming about the opposite institution across the way.

The exact facts were these. It had happened that the Grand-Duchess,
having been necessarily brought into contact with the President, and
particularly with his wife, during the past week, had conceived for
the latter an antipathy hardly to be expressed in words. Her fixed
determination was at any cost to keep the Presidential party at a
distance, and it was only after a stormy scene that the Grand-Duke and
Lord Skye succeeded in extorting her consent that the President should
take her to supper. Further than this she would not go. She would not
speak to “that woman,” as she called the President’s wife, nor be in her
neighbourhood. She would rather stay in her own room all the evening,
and she did not care in the least what the Queen would think of it,
for she was no subject of the Queen’s. The case was a hard one for Lord
Skye, who was perplexed to know, from this point of view, why he was
entertaining the Princess at all; but, with the help of the Grand-Duke
and Lord Dunbeg, who was very active and smiled deprecation with some
success, he found a way out of it; and this was the reason why there
were two thrones in the ball-room, and why the British throne was
lighted with such careful reference to the Princess’s complexion. Lord
Skye immolated himself in the usual effort of British and American
Ministers, to keep the two great powers apart. He and the Grand-Duke
and Lord Dunbeg acted as buffers with watchful diligence, dexterity, and
success. As one resource, Lord Skye had bethought himself of Mrs. Lee,
and he told the Princess the story of Mrs. Lee’s relations with the
President’s wife, a story which was no secret in Washington, for, apart
from Madeleine’s own account, society was left in no doubt of the light
in which Mrs. Lee was regarded by the mistress of the White House, whom
Washington ladles were now in the habit of drawing out on the subject
of Mrs. Lee, and who always rose to the bait with fresh vivacity, to the
amusement and delight of Victoria Dare and other mischief-makers.

“She will not trouble you so long as you can keep Mrs. Lee in your
neighbourhood,” said Lord Skye, and the Princess accordingly seized upon
Mrs. Lee and brandished her, as though she were a charm against the
evil eye, in the face of the President’s party. She made Mrs. Lee take
a place just behind her as though she were a lady-in-waiting. She even
graciously permitted her to sit down, so near that their chairs touched.
Whenever “that woman” was within sight, which was most of the time, the
Princess directed her conversation entirely to Mrs. Lee and took care
to make it evident. Even before the Presidential party had arrived,
Madeleine had fallen into the Princess’s grasp, and when the Princess
went forward to receive the President and his wife, which she did with a
bow of stately and distant dignity, she dragged Madeleine closely by her
side. Mrs. Lee bowed too; she could not well help it; but was cut dead
for her pains, with a glare of contempt and hatred. Lord Skye, who was
acting as cavalier to the President’s wife, was panic-stricken, and
hastened to march his democratic potentate away, under pretence of
showing her the decorations. He placed her at last on her own throne,
where he and the Grand-Duke relieved each other in standing guard at
intervals throughout the evening. When the Princess followed with the
President, she compelled her husband to take Mrs. Lee on his arm
and conduct her to the British throne, with no other object than to
exasperate the President’s wife, who, from her elevated platform, looked
down upon the cortège with a scowl.

In all this affair Mrs. Lee was the principal sufferer. No one could
relieve her, and she was literally penned in as she sat. The Princess
kept up an incessant fire of small conversation, principally complaint
and fault-finding, which no one dared to interrupt. Mrs. Lee was
painfully bored, and after a time even the absurdity of the thing ceased
to amuse her.

She had, too, the ill-luck to make one or two remarks which appealed
to some hidden sense of humour in the Princess, who laughed and, in the
style of royal personages, gave her to understand that she would like
more amusement of the same sort. Of all things in life, Mrs. Lee held
this kind of court-service in contempt, for she was something more
than republican--a little communistic at heart, and her only serious
complaint of the President and his wife was that they undertook to have
a court and to ape monarchy.

She had no notion of admitting social superiority in any one, President
or Prince, and to be suddenly converted into a lady-in-waiting to a
small German Grand-Duchess, was a terrible blow. But what was to be
done? Lord Skye had drafted her into the service and she could not
decently refuse to help him when he came to her side and told her,
with his usual calm directness, what his difficulties were, and how he
counted upon her to help him out.

The same play went on at supper, where there was a royal-presidential
table, which held about two dozen guests, and the two great ladies
presiding, as far apart as they could be placed. The Grand-Duke and Lord
Skye, on either side of the President’s wife, did their duty like men,
and were rewarded by receiving from her much information about the
domestic arrangements of the White House. The President, however, who
sat next the Princess at the opposite end, was evidently depressed,
owing partly to the fact that the Princess, in defiance of all
etiquette, had compelled Lord Dunbeg to take Mrs. Lee to supper and to
place her directly next the President. Madeleine tried to escape, but
was stopped by the Princess, who addressed her across the President and
in a decided tone asked her to sit precisely there. Mrs.

Lee looked timidly at her neighbour, who made no sign, but ate his
supper in silence only broken by an occasional reply to a rare remark.
Mrs. Lee pitied him, and wondered what his wife would say when they
reached home. She caught Ratcliffe’s eye down the table, watching her
with a smile; she tried to talk fluently with Dunbeg; but not until
supper was long over and two o’clock was at hand; not until the
Presidential party, under all the proper formalities, had taken their
leave of the Grand-ducal party; not until Lord Skye had escorted them to
their carriage and returned to say that they were gone, did the Princess
loose her hold upon Mrs. Lee and allow her to slip away into obscurity.

Meanwhile the ball had gone on after the manner of balls. As Madeleine
sat in her enforced grandeur she could watch all that passed. She had
seen Sybil whirling about with one man after another, amid a swarm of
dancers, enjoying herself to the utmost and occasionally giving a nod
and a smile to her sister as their eyes met. There, too, was Victoria
Dare, who never appeared flurried even when waltzing with Lord Dunbeg,
whose education as a dancer had been neglected. The fact was now fully
recognized that Victoria was carrying on a systematic flirtation with
Dunbeg, and had undertaken as her latest duty the task of teaching him
to waltz. His struggles and her calmness in assisting them commanded
respect. On the opposite side of the room, by the republican throne,
Mrs. Lee had watched Mr. Ratcliffe standing by the President, who
appeared unwilling to let him out of arm’s length and who seemed to make
to him most of his few remarks. Schneidekoupon and his sister were mixed
in the throng, dancing as though England had never countenanced the
heresy of free-trade. On the whole, Mrs. Lee was satisfied.

If her own sufferings were great, they were not without reward. She
studied all the women in the ball-room, and if there was one prettier
than Sybil, Madeleine’s eyes could not discover her. If there was a more
perfect dress, Madeleine knew nothing of dressing. On these points she
felt the confidence of conviction. Her calm would have been complete,
had she felt quite sure that none of Sybil’s gaiety was superficial and
that it would not be followed by reaction. She watched nervously to see
whether her face changed its gay expression, and once she thought it
became depressed, but this was when the Grand-Duke came up to claim his
waltz, and the look rapidly passed away when they got upon the floor and
his Highness began to wheel round the room with a precision and momentum
that would have done honour to a regiment of Life Guards. He seemed
pleased with his experiment, for he was seen again and again careering
over the floor with Sybil until Mrs. Lee herself became nervous, for the
Princess frowned.

After her release Madeleine lingered awhile in the ball-room to speak
with her sister and to receive congratulations. For half an hour she was
a greater belle than Sybil. A crowd of men clustered about her, amused
at the part she had played in the evening’s entertainment and full of
compliments upon her promotion at Court. Lord Skye himself found time to
offer her his thanks in a more serious tone than he generally affected.
“You have suffered much,” said he, “and I am grateful.” Madeleine
laughed as she answered that her sufferings had seemed nothing to her
while she watched his. But at last she became weary of the noise and
glare of the ball-room, and, accepting the arm of her excellent friend
Count Popoff, she strolled with him back to the house. There at last
she sat down on a sofa in a quiet window-recess where the light was less
strong and where a convenient laurel spread its leaves in front so as
to make a bower through which she could see the passers-by without being
seen by them except with an effort. Had she been a younger woman, this
would have been the spot for a flirtation, but Mrs. Lee never flirted,
and the idea of her flirting with Popoff would have seemed ludicrous to
all mankind.

He did not sit down, but was leaning against the angle of the wall,
talking with her, when suddenly Mr. Ratcliffe appeared and took the seat
by her side with such deliberation and apparent sense of property that
Popoff incontinently turned and fled. No one knew where the Secretary
came from, or how he learned that she was there. He made no explanation
and she took care to ask for none. She gave him a highly-coloured
account of her evening’s service as lady-in-waiting, which he matched
by that of his own trials as gentleman-usher to the President, who, it
seemed, had clung desperately to his old enemy in the absence of any
other rock to clutch at.

Ratcliffe looked the character of Prime Minister sufficiently well at
this moment. He would have held his own, at a pinch, in any Court, not
merely in Europe but in India or China, where dignity is still expected
of gentlemen.

Excepting for a certain coarse and animal expression about the mouth,
and an indefinable coldness in the eye, he was a handsome man and still
in his prime. Every one remarked how much he was improved since entering
the Cabinet. He had dropped his senatorial manner. His clothes were no
longer congressional, but those of a respectable man, neat and decent.
His shirts no longer protruded in the wrong places, nor were his
shirt-collars frayed or soiled. His hair did not stray over his eyes,
ears, and coat, like that of a Scotch terrier, but had got itself cut.
Having overheard Mrs. Lee express on one occasion her opinion of people
who did not take a cold bath every morning, he had thought it best to
adopt this reform, although he would not have had it generally known,
tot it savoured of caste. He made an effort not to be dictatorial and to
forget that he had been the Prairie Giant, the bully of the Senate. In
short, what with Mrs. Lee’s influence and what with his emancipation
from the Senate chamber with its code of bad manners and worse morals,
Mr. Ratcliffe was fast becoming a respectable member of society whom a
man who had never been in prison or in politics might safely acknowledge
as a friend.

Mr. Ratcliffe was now evidently bent upon being heard. After charting
for a time with some humour on the President’s successes as a man of
fashion, he changed the subject to the merits of the President as a
statesman, and little by little as he spoke he became serious and his
voice sank into low and confidential tones. He plainly said that the
President’s incapacity had now become notorious among his followers;
that it was only with difficulty his Cabinet and friends could prevent
him from making a fool of himself fifty times a day; that all the party
leaders who had occasion to deal with him were so thoroughly disgusted
that the Cabinet had to pass its time in trying to pacify them;
while this state of things lasted, Ratcliffe’s own influence must be
paramount; he had good reason to know that if the Presidential election
were to take place this year, nothing could prevent his nomination and
election; even at three years’ distance the chances in his favour were
at least two to one; and after this exordium he went on in a low tone
with increasing earnestness, while Mrs. Lee sat motionless as the statue
of Agrippina, her eyes fixed on the ground:

“I am not one of those who are happy in political life. I am a
politician because I cannot help myself; it is the trade I am fittest
for, and ambition is my resource to make it tolerable. In politics we
cannot keep our hands clean. I have done many things in my political
career that are not defensible. To act with entire honesty and
self-respect, one should always live in a pure atmosphere, and the
atmosphere of politics is impure. Domestic life is the salvation of many
public men, but I have for many years been deprived of it. I have now
come to that point where increasing responsibilities and temptations
make me require help. I must have it. You alone can give it to me. You
are kind, thoughtful, conscientious, high-minded, cultivated, fitted
better than any woman I ever saw, for public duties. Your place is
there. You belong among those who exercise an influence beyond their
time. I only ask you to take the place which is yours.”

This desperate appeal to Mrs. Lee’s ambition was a calculated part of
Ratcliffe’s scheme. He was well aware that he had marked high game, and
that in proportion to this height must be the power of his lure. Nor was
he embarrassed because Mrs. Lee sat still and pale with her eyes fixed
on the ground and her hands twisted together in her lap. The eagle
that soars highest must be longer in descending to the ground than the
sparrow or the partridge. Mrs. Lee had a thousand things to think about
in this brief time, and yet she found that she could not think at all;
a succession of mere images and fragments of thought passed rapidly over
her mind, and her will exercised no control upon their order or their
nature. One of these fleeting reflections was that in all the offers
of marriage she had ever heard, this was the most unsentimental and
businesslike. As for his appeal to her ambition, it fell quite dead
upon her ear, but a woman must be more than a heroine who can listen to
flattery so evidently sincere, from a man who is pre-eminent among
men, without being affected by it. To her, however, the great and
overpowering fact was that she found herself unable to retreat or
escape; her tactics were disconcerted, her temporary barriers beaten

The offer was made. What should she do with it?

She had thought for months on this subject without being able to form a
decision; what hope was there that she should be able to decide now, in
a ball-room, at a minute’s notice? When, as occasionally happens, the
conflicting sentiments, prejudices, and passions of a lifetime are
compressed into a single instant, they sometimes overcharge the mind and
it refuses to work. Mrs. Lee sat still and let things take their course;
a dangerous expedient, as thousands of women have learned, for it leaves
them at the mercy of the strong will, bent upon mastery.

The music from the ball-room did not stop. Crowds of persons passed by
their retreat. Some glanced in, and not one of these felt a doubt what
was going on there. An unmistakeable atmosphere of mystery and intensity
surrounded the pair. Ratcliffe’s eyes were fixed upon Mrs. Lee, and
hers on the ground. Neither seemed to speak or to stir. Old Baron
Jacobi, who never failed to see everything, saw this as he went by, and
ejaculated a foreign oath of frightful import. Victoria Dare saw it and
was devoured by curiosity to such a point as to be hardly capable of
containing herself.

After a silence which seemed interminable, Ratcliffe went on: “I do
not speak of my own feelings because I know that unless compelled by a
strong sense of duty, you will not be decided by any devotion of mine.
But I honestly say that I have learned to depend on you to a degree I
can hardly express; and when I think of what I should be without
you, life seems to me so intolerably dark that I am ready to make any
sacrifice, to accept any conditions that will keep you by my side.”

Meanwhile Victoria Dare, although deeply interested in what Dunbeg was
telling her, had met Sybil and had stopped a single second to whisper in
her ear: “You had better look after your sister, in the window, behind
the laurel with Mr. Ratcliffe!” Sybil was on Lord Skye’s arm, enjoying
herself amazingly, though the night was far gone, but when she caught
Victoria’s words, the expression of her face wholly changed. All the
anxieties and terrors of the last fortnight, came back upon it. She
dragged Lord Skye across the hall and looked in upon her sister. One
glance was enough.

Desperately frightened but afraid to hesitate, she went directly up to
Madeleine who was still sitting like a statue, listening to Ratcliffe’s
last words. As she hurriedly entered, Mrs. Lee, looking up, caught sight
of her pale face, and started from her seat.

“Are you ill, Sybil?” she exclaimed; “is anything the matter?”

“A little--fatigued,” gasped Sybil; “I thought you might be ready to go

“I am,” cried Madeleine; “I am quite ready. Good evening, Mr. Ratcliffe.
I will see you to-morrow. Lord Skye, shall I take leave of the

“The Princess retired half an hour ago,” replied Lord Skye, who saw the
situation and was quite ready to help Sybil; “let me take you to the
dressing-room and order your carriage.” Mr. Ratcliffe found himself
suddenly left alone, while Mrs. Lee hurried away, torn by fresh
anxieties. They had reached the dressing-room and were nearly ready
to go home, when Victoria Dare suddenly dashed in upon them, with an
animation of manner very unusual in her, and, seizing Sybil by the
hand, drew her into an adjoining room and shut the door. “Can you keep a
secret?” said she abruptly.

“What!” said Sybil, looking at her with open-mouthed interest; “you
don’t mean--are you really--tell me, quick!”

“Yes!” said Victoria relapsing into composure; “I am engaged!”

“To Lord Dunbeg?”

Victoria nodded, and Sybil, whose nerves were strung to the highest
pitch by excitement, flattery, fatigue, perplexity, and terror, burst
into a paroxysm of laughter, that startled even the calm Miss Dare.

“Poor Lord Dunbeg! don’t be hard on him, Victoria!” she gasped when at
last she found breath; “do you really mean to pass the rest of your life
in Ireland? Oh, how much you will teach them!”

“You forget, my dear,” said Victoria, who had placidly enthroned herself
on the foot of a bed, “that I am not a pauper. I am told that Dunbeg
Castle is a romantic summer residence, and in the dull season we shall
of course go to London or somewhere. I shall be civil to you when you
come over. Don’t you think a coronet will look well on me?”

Sybil burst again into laughter so irrepressible and prolonged that
it puzzled even poor Dunbeg, who was impatiently pacing the corridor

It alarmed Madeleine, who suddenly opened the door. Sybil recovered
herself, and, her eyes streaming with tears, presented Victoria to her

“Madeleine, allow me to introduce you to the Countess Dunbeg!”

But Mrs. Lee was much too anxious to feel any interest in Lady Dunbeg.
A sudden fear struck her that Sybil was going into hysterics because
Victoria’s engagement recalled her own disappointment. She hurried her
sister away to the carriage.

Chapter XII

THEY drove home in silence, Mrs. Lee disturbed with anxieties and
doubts, partly caused by her sister, partly by Mr. Ratcliffe; Sybil
divided between amusement at Victoria’s conquest, and alarm at her own
boldness in meddling with her sister’s affairs. Desperation, however,
was stronger than fear. She made up her mind that further suspense was
not to be endured; she would fight her baffle now before another hour
was lost; surely no time could be better. A few moments brought them to
their door. Mrs. Lee had told her maid not to wait for them, and they
were alone. The fire was still alive on Madeleine’s hearth, and she
threw more wood upon it. Then she insisted that Sybil must go to bed at
once. But Sybil refused; she felt quite well, she said, and not in the
least sleepy; she had a great deal to talk about, and wanted to get it
off her mind. Nevertheless, her feminine regard for the “Dawn in June”
 led her to postpone what she had to say until with Madeleine’s help she
had laid the triumph of the ball carefully aside; then, putting on her
dressing-gown, and hastily plunging Carrington’s letter into her breast,
like a concealed weapon, she hurried back to Madeleine’s room and
established herself in a chair before the fire. There, after a moment’s
pause, the two women began their long-deferred trial of strength, in
which the match was so nearly equal as to make the result doubtful; for,
if Madeleine were much the cleverer, Sybil in this case knew much better
what she wanted, and had a clear idea how she meant to gain it, while
Madeleine, unsuspicious of attack, had no plan of defence at all.

“Madeleine,” began Sybil, solemnly, and with a violent palpitation of
the heart, “I want you to tell me something.”

“What is it, my child?” said Mrs. Lee, puzzled, and yet half ready
to see that there must be some connection between her sister’s coming
question and the sudden illness at the ball, which had disappeared as
suddenly as it came.

“Do you mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?”

Poor Mrs. Lee was quite disconcerted by the directness of the attack.
This fatal question met her at every turn. Hardly had she succeeded in
escaping trom it at the ball scarcely an hour ago, by a stroke of good
fortune for which she now began to see she was indebted to Sybil, and
here it was again presented to her face like a pistol. The whole town,
then, was asking it.

Ratcliffe’s offer must have been seen by half Washington, and her reply
was awaited by an immense audience, as though she were a political
returning-board. Her disgust was intense, and her first answer to Sybil
was a quick inquiry:

“Why do you ask such a question? have you heard anything,--has anyone
talked about it to you?”

“No!” replied Sybil; “but I must know; I can see for myself without
being told, that Mr. Racliffe is trying to make you marry him. I don’t
ask out of curiosity; this is something that concerns me nearly as much
as it does you yourself. Please tell me! don’t treat me like a child any
longer! let me know what you are thinking about! I am so tired of being
left in the dark! You have no idea how much this thing weighs on me. Oh,
Maude, I shall never be happy again until you trust me about this.”

Mrs. Lee felt a little pang of conscience, and seemed suddenly to
become conscious of a new coil, tightening about her, in this wretched
complication. Unable to see her way, ignorant of her sister’s motives,
urged on by the idea that Sybil’s happiness was involved, she was now
charged with want of feeling, and called upon for a direct answer to a
plain question.

How could she aver that she did not mean to marry Mr. Ratcliffe? to say
this would be to shut the door on all the objects she had at heart. If
a direct answer must be given, it was better to say “Yes!” and have
it over; better to leap blindly and see what came of it. Mrs.
Lee, therefore, with an internal gasp, but with no visible sign of
excitement, said, as though she were in a dream:

“Well, Sybil, I will tell you. I would have told you long ago if I had
known myself. Yes! I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe!”

Sybil sprang to her feet with a cry: “And have you told him so?” she

“No! you came and interrupted us just as we were speaking. I was glad
you did come, for it gives me a little time to think. But I am decided
now. I shall tell him to-morrow.”

This was not said with the air or one whose heart beat warmly at the
thought of confessing her love. Mrs. Lee spoke mechanically, and almost
with an effort. Sybil flung herself with all her energy upon her sister;
violently excited, and eager to make herself heard, without waiting
for arguments, she broke out into a torrent of entreaties: “Oh, don’t,
don’t, don’t! Oh, please, please, don’t, my dearest, dearest Maude!
unless you want to break my heart, don’t marry that man! You can’t love
him! You can never be happy with him! he will take you away to Peonia,
and you will die there! I shall never see you again! He will make you
unhappy; he will beat you, I know he will! Oh, if you care for me at
all, don’t marry him! Send him away! don’t see him again! let us go
ourselves, now, in the morning train, before he comes back. I’m
all ready; I’ll pack everything for you; we’ll go to Newport; to
Europe--anywhere, to be out of his reach!”

With this passionate appeal, Sybil threw herself on her knees by her
sister’s side, and, clasping her arms around Madeleine’s waist, sobbed
as though her heart were already broken. Had Carrington seen her then
he must have admitted that she had carried out his instructions to the
letter. She was quite honest, too, in it all. She meant what she
said, and her tears were real tears that had been pent up for weeks.
Unluckily, her logic was feeble. Her idea of Mr. Ratcliffe’s character
was vague, and biased by mere theories of what a Prairie Giant of
Peonia should be in his domestic relations. Her idea of Peonia, too,
was indistinct. She was haunted by a vision of her sister, sitting on
a horse-hair sofa before an air-tight iron stove in a small room with
high, bare white walls, a chromolithograph on each, and at her side a
marble-topped table surmounted by a glass vase containing funereal dried
grasses; the only literature, Frank Leslie’s periodical and the New York
Ledger, with a strong smell of cooking everywhere prevalent. Here
she saw Madeleine receiving visitors, the wives of neighbours and
constituents, who told her the Peonia news.

Notwithstanding her ignorant and unreasonable prejudice against western
men and women, western towns and prairies, and, in short, everything
western, down to western politics and western politicians, whom she
perversely asserted to be tue lowest ot all western products, there
was still some common sense in Sybil’s idea. When that inevitable hour
struck for Mr.

Ratcliffe, which strikes sooner or later for all politicians, and an
ungrateful country permitted him to pine among his friends in Illinois,
what did he propose to do with his wife? Did he seriously suppose that
she, who was bored to death by New York, and had been able to find no
permanent pleasure in Europe, would live quietly in the romantic village
of Peonia? If not, did Mr. Ratcliffe imagine that they could find
happiness in the enjoyment of each other’s society, and of Mrs. Lee’s
income, in the excitements of Washington? In the ardour of his pursuit,
Mr. Ratcliffe had accepted in advance any conditions which Mrs. Lee
might impose, but if he really imagined that happiness and content lay
on the purple rim of this sunset, he had more confidence in women and in
money than a wider experience was ever likely to justify.

Whatever might be Mr. Ratcliffe’s schemes for dealing with these
obstacles they could hardly be such as would satisfy Sybil, who, if
inaccurate in her theories about Prairie Giants, yet understood women,
and especially her sister, much better than Mr. Ratcliffe ever could do.
Here she was safe, and it would have been better had she said no more,
for Mrs. Lee, though staggered for a moment by her sister’s vehemence,
was reassured by what seemed the absurdity of her fears. Madeleine
rebelled against this hysterical violence of opposition, and became more
fixed in her decision.

She scolded her sister in good, set terms--

“Sybil, Sybil! you must not be so violent. Behave like a woman, and not
like a spoiled child!”

Mrs. Lee, like most persons who have to deal with spoiled or unspoiled
children, resorted to severity, not so much because it was the proper
way of dealing with them, as because she knew not what else to do.
She was thoroughly uncomfortable and weary. She was not satisfied with
herself or with her own motives. Doubt encompassed her on all sides, and
her worst opponent was that sister whose happiness had turned the scale
against her own judgment.

Nevertheless her tactics answered their object of checking Sybil’s
vehemence. Her sobs came to an end, and she presently rose with a
quieter air.

“Madeleine,” said she, “do you really want to marry Mr. Ratcliffe?”

“What else can I do, my dear Sybil? I want to do whatever is for the
best. I thought you might be pleased.”

“You thought I might be pleased?” cried Sybil in astonishment. “What a
strange idea! If you had ever spoken to me about it I should have told
you that I hate him, and can’t understand how you can abide him. But I
would rather marry him myself than see you marry him. I know that you
will kill yourself with unhappiness when you have done it. Oh, Maude,
please tell me that you won’t!” And Sybil began gently sobbing again,
while she caressed her sister.

Mrs. Lee was infinitely distressed. To act against the wishes of her
nearest friends was hard enough, but to appear harsh and unfeeling to
the one being whose happiness she had at heart, was intolerable. Yet
no sensible woman, after saying that she meant to marry a man like Mr.
Ratcliffe, could throw him over merely because another woman chose to
behave like a spoiled child.

Sybil was more childish than Madeleine herself had supposed. She could
not even see where her own interest lay. She knew no more about Mr.
Ratcliffe and the West than if he were the giant of a fairy-story, and
lived at the top of a bean-stalk. She must be treated as a child; with
gentleness, affection, forbearance, but with firmness and decision. She
must be refused what she asked, for her own good.

Thus it came about that at last Mrs. Lee spoke, with an appearance of
decision far from representing her internal tremor.

“Sybil, dear, I have made up my mind to marry Mr. Ratcliffe because
there is no other way of making every one happy. You need not be afraid
of him. He is kind and generous. Besides, I can take care of myself; and
I will take care of you too. Now let us not discuss it any more. It is
broad daylight, and we are both tired out.”

Sybil grew at once perfectly calm, and standing before her sister, as
though their rôles were henceforward to be reversed, said:

“You have really made up your mind, then? Nothing I can say will change

Mrs. Lee, looking at her with more surprise than ever, could not force
herself to speak; but she shook her head slowly and decidedly.

“Then,” said Sybil, “there is only one thing more I can do. You must
read this!” and she drew out Carrington’s letter, which she held before
Madeleine’s face.

“Not now, Sybil!” remonstrated Mrs. Lee, dreading another long struggle.
“I will read it after we have had some rest. Go to bed now!”

“I do not leave this room, nor will I ever go to bed until you have read
that letter,” answered Sybil, seating herself again before the fire
with the resolution of Queen Elizabeth; “not if I sit here till you are
married. I promised Mr. Carrington that you should read it
instantly; it’s all I can do now.” With a sigh, Mrs. Lee drew up the
window-curtain, and in the gray morning light sat down to break the seal
and read the following letter:--

“Washington, 2nd April.

“My dear Mrs. Lee,

“This letter will only come into your hands in case
there should be a necessity for your knowing its contents. Nothing short
of necessity would excuse my writing it. I have to ask your pardon for
intruding again upon your private affairs. In this case, if I did not
intrude, you would have cause for serious complaint against me.

“You asked me the other day whether I knew anything against Mr.
Ratcliffe which the world did not know, to account for my low opinion of
his character. I evaded your question then. I was bound by professional
rules not to disclose facts that came to me under a pledge of
confidence. I am going to violate these rules now, only because I owe
you a duty which seems to me to override all others.

“I do know facts in regard to Mr. Ratcliffe, which have seemed to me to
warrant a very low opinion of his character, and to mark him as unfit to
be, I will not say your husband, but even your acquaintance.

“You know that I am executor to Samuel Baker’s will. You know who Samuel
Baker was. You have seen his wife. She has told you herself that I
assisted her in the examination and destruction of all her husband’s
private papers according to his special death-bed request. One of the
first facts I learned from these papers and her explanations, was the

“Just eight years ago, the great ‘Inter-Oceanic Mail Steamship Company,’
wished to extend its service round the world, and, in order to do so, it
applied to Congress for a heavy subsidy. The management of this affair
was put into the hands of Mr. Baker, and all his private letters to the
President of the Company, in press copies, as well as the President’s
replies, came into my possession. Baker’s letters were, of course,
written in a sort of cypher, several kinds of which he was in the habit
of using. He left among his papers a key to this cypher, but Mrs. Baker
could have explained it without that help.

“It appeared from this correspondence that the bill was carried
successfully through the House, and, on reaching the Senate, was
referred to the appropriate Committee. Its ultimate passage was very
doubtful; the end of the session was close at hand; the Senate was very
evenly divided, and the Chairman of the Committee was decidedly hostile.

“The Chairman of that Committee was Senator Ratcliffe, always mentioned
by Mr. Baker in cypher, and with every precaution. If you care, however,
to verify the fact, and to trace the history of the Subsidy Bill through
all its stages, together with Mr. Ratcliffe’s report, remarks, and votes
upon it, you have only to look into the journals and debates for that

“At last Mr. Baker wrote that Senator Ratcliffe had put the bill in
his pocket, and unless some means could be found of overcoming his
opposition, there would be no report, and the bill would never come to
a vote. All ordinary kinds of argument and influence had been employed
upon him, and were exhausted. In this exigency Baker suggested that the
Company should give him authority to see what money would do, but he
added that it would be worse than useless to deal with small sums.
Unless at least one hundred thousand dollars could be employed, it was
better to leave the thing alone.

“The next mail authorized him to use any required amount of money not
exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Two days later he
wrote that the bill was reported, and would pass the Senate within
forty-eight hours; and he congratulated the Company on the fact that he
had used only one hundred thousand dollars out of its last credit.

“The bill was actually reported, passed, and became law as he foretold,
and the Company has enjoyed its subsidy ever since. Mrs. Baker also
informed me that to her knowledge her husband gave the sum mentioned, in
United States Coupon Bonds, to Senator Ratcliffe.

“This transaction, taken in connection with the tortuousness of his
public course, explains the distrust I have always expressed for him.
You will, however, understand that all these papers have been destroyed.
Mrs. Baker could never be induced to hazard her own comfort by revealing
the facts to the public. The officers of the Company in their own
interests would never betray the transaction, and their books were
undoubtedly so kept as to show no trace of it. If I made this charge
against Mr. Ratcliffe, I should be the only sufferer. He would deny
and laugh at it. I could prove nothing. I am therefore more directly
interested than he is in keeping silence.

“In trusting this secret to you, I rely firmly upon your mentioning
it to no one else--not even to your sister. You are at liberty, if you
wish, to show this letter to one person only--to Mr. Ratcliffe himself.
That done, you will, I beg, burn it immediately.

“With the warmest good wishes, I am,

“Ever most truly yours,

“John Carrington.”

When Mrs. Lee had finished reading this letter, she remained for some
time quite silent, looking out into the square below. The morning had
come, and the sky was bright with the fresh April sunlight. She threw
open her window, and drew in the soft spring air. She needed all the
purity and quiet that nature could give, for her whole soul was in
revolt, wounded, mortified, exasperated. Against the sentiment of all
her friends she had insisted upon believing in this man; she had wrought
herself up to the point of accepting him for her husband; a man who, if
law were the same thing as justice, ought to be in a felon’s cell; a man
who could take money to betray his trust. Her anger at first swept away
all bounds. She was impatient for the moment when she should see
him again, and tear off his mask. For once she would express all the
loathing she felt for the whole pack of political hounds. She would see
whether the animal was made like other beings; whether he had a sense of
honour; a single clean spot in his mind.

Then it occurred to her that after all there might be a mistake; perhaps

Ratcliffe could explain the charge away. But this thought only laid
bare another smarting wound in her pride. Not only did she believe the
charge, but she believed that Mr. Ratcliffe would defend his act. She
had been willing to marry a man whom she thought capable of such a
crime, and now she shuddered at the idea that this charge might have
been brought against her husband, and that she could not dismiss it with
instant incredulity, with indignant contempt. How had this happened? how
had she got into so foul a complication? When she left New York, she had
meant to be a mere spectator in Washington. Had it entered her head
that she could be drawn into any project of a second marriage, she
never would have come at all, for she was proud of her loyalty to her
husband’s memory, and second marriages were her abhorrence. In her
restlessness and solitude, she had forgotten this; she had only asked
whether any life was worth living for a woman who had neither husband
nor children. Was the family all that life had to offer? could she find
no interest outside the household? And so, led by this will-of-the-wisp,
she had, with her eyes open, walked into the quagmire of politics, in
spite of remonstrance, in spite of conscience.

She rose and paced the room, while Sybil lay on the couch, watching her
with eyes half shut. She grew more and more angry with herself, and as
her self-reproach increased, her anger against Ratcliffe faded away. She
had no right to be angry with Ratcliffe. He had never deceived her.
He had always openly enough avowed that he knew no code of morals in
politics; that if virtue did not answer his purpose he used vice. How
could she blame him for acts which he had repeatedly defended in her
presence and with her tacit assent, on principles that warranted this or
any other villainy?

The worst was that this discovery had come on her as a blow, not as
a reprieve from execution. At this thought she became furious with

She had not known the recesses of her own heart. She had honestly
supposed that Sybil’s interests and Sybil’s happiness were forcing her
to an act of self-sacrifice; and now she saw that in the depths of
her soul very different motives had been at work: ambition, thirst for
power, restless eagerness to meddle in what did not concern her, blind
longing to escape from the torture of watching other women with full
lives and satisfied instincts, while her own life was hungry and sad.
For a time she had actually, unconscious as she was of the delusion,
hugged a hope that a new field of usefulness was open to her; that great
opportunities for doing good were to supply the aching emptiness of that
good which had been taken away; and that here at last was an object
for which there would be almost a pleasure in squandering the rest of
existence even if she knew in advance that the experiment would fail.
Life was emptier than ever now that this dream was over. Yet the worst
was not in that disappointment, but in the discovery of her own weakness
and self-deception.

Worn out by long-continued anxiety, excitement and sleeplessness, she
was unfit to struggle with the creatures of her own imagination. Such a
strain could only end in a nervous crisis, and at length it came:

“Oh, what a vile thing life is!” she cried, throwing up her arms with a
gesture of helpless rage and despair. “Oh, how I wish I were dead! how
I wish the universe were annihilated!” and she flung herself down by
Sybil’s side in a frenzy of tears.

Sybil, who had watched all this exhibition in silence, waited quietly
for the excitement to pass. There was little to say. She could only

After the paroxysm had exhausted itself Madeleine lay quiet for a time,
until other thoughts began to disturb her. From reproaching herself
about Ratcliffe she went on to reproach herself about Sybil, who really
looked worn and pale, as though almost overcome by fatigue.

“Sybil,” said she, “you must go to bed at once. You are tired out. It
was very wrong in me to let you sit up so late. Go now, and get some

“I am not going to bed till you do, Maude!” replied Sybil, with quiet

“Go, dear! it is all settled. I shall not marry Mr. Ratcliffe. You need
not be anxious about it any more.”

“Are you very unhappy?”

“Only very angry with myself. I ought to have taken Mr. Carrington’s
advice sooner.”

“Oh, Maude!” exclaimed Sybil, with a sudden explosion of energy; “I wish
you had taken him!”

This remark roused Mrs. Lee to new interest: “Why, Sybil,” said she,
“surely you are not in earnest?”

“Indeed, I am,” replied Sybil, very decidedly. “I know you think I am
in love with Mr. Carrington myself, but I’m not. I would a great deal
rather have him for a brother-in-law, and he is so much the nicest man
you know, and you could help his sisters.”

Mrs. Lee hesitated a moment, for she was not quite certain whether it
was wise to probe a healing wound, but she was anxious to clear this
last weight from her mind, and she dashed recklessly forward:

“Are you sure you are telling the truth, Sybil? Why, then, did you say
that you cared for him? and why have you been so miserable ever since he
went away?”

“Why? I should think it was plain enough why! Because I thought, as
every one else did, that you were going to marry Mr. Ratcliffe; and
because if you married Mr. Ratcliffe, I must go and live alone; and
because you treated me like a child, and never took me into your
confidence at all; and because Mr. Carrington was the only person I had
to advise me, and after he went away, I was left all alone to fight Mr.
Ratcliffe and you both together, without a human soul to help me in case
I made a mistake. You would have been a great deal more miserable than I
if you had been in my place.”

Madeleine looked at her for a moment in doubt. Would this last? did
Sybil herself know the depth of her own wound? But what could Mrs. Lee
do now?

Perhaps Sybil did deceive herself a little. When this excitement had
passed away, perhaps Carrington’s image might recur to her mind a little
too often for her own comfort. The future must take care of itself.
Mrs. Lee drew her sister closer to her, and said: “Sybil, I have made a
horrible mistake, and you must forgive me.”

Chapter XIII

NOT until afternoon did Mrs. Lee reappear. How much she had slept she
did not say, and she hardly looked like one whose slumbers had been long
or sweet; but if she had slept little, she had made up for the loss
by thinking much, and, while she thought, the storm which had raged so
fiercely in her breast, more and more subsided into calm. If there was
not sunshine yet, there was at least stillness. As she lay, hour after
hour, waiting for the sleep that did not come, she had at first the keen
mortification of reflecting how easily she had been led by mere vanity
into imagining that she could be of use in the world. She even smiled
in her solitude at the picture she drew of herself, reforming Ratcliffe,
and Krebs, and Schuyler Clinton. The ease with which Ratcliffe alone had
twisted her about his finger, now that she saw it, made her writhe, and
the thought of what he might have done, had she married him, and of
the endless succession of moral somersaults she would have had to turn,
chilled her with mortal terror. She had barely escaped being dragged
under the wheels of the machine, and so coming to an untimely end. When
she thought of this, she felt a mad passion to revenge herself on the
whole race of politicians, with Ratcliffe at their head; she passed
hours in framing bitter speeches to be made to his face.

Then as she grew calmer, Ratcliffe’s sins took on a milder hue; life,
after all, had not been entirely blackened by his arts; there was even
some good in her experience, sharp though it were. Had she not come to
Washington in search of men who cast a shadow, and was not Ratcliffe’s
shadow strong enough to satisfy her? Had she not penetrated the deepest
recesses of politics, and learned how easily the mere possession of
power could convert the shadow of a hobby-horse existing only in the
brain of a foolish country farmer, into a lurid nightmare that convulsed
the sleep of nations? The antics of Presidents and Senators had been
amusing--so amusing that she had nearly been persuaded to take part in
them. She had saved herself in time.

She had got to the bottom of this business of democratic government, and
found out that it was nothing more than government of any other kind.
She might have known it by her own common sense, but now that experience
had proved it, she was glad to quit the masquerade; to return to the
true democracy of life, her paupers and her prisons, her schools and her
hospitals. As for Mr. Ratcliffe, she felt no difficulty in dealing with

Let Mr. Ratcliffe, and his brother giants, wander on their own political
prairie, and hunt for offices, or other profitable game, as they would.

Their objects were not her objects, and to join their company was not
her ambition. She was no longer very angry with Mr. Ratcliffe. She had
no wish to insult him, or to quarrel with him. What he had done as a
politician, he had done according to his own moral code, and it was not
her business to judge him; to protect herself was the only right she
claimed. She thought she could easily hold him at arm’s length, and
although, if Carrington had written the truth, they could never again be
friends, there need be no difficulty in their remaining acquaintances.
If this view of her duty was narrow, it was at least proof that she had
learned something from Mr.

Ratcliffe; perhaps it was also proof that she had yet to learn Mr.
Ratcliffe himself.

Two o’clock had struck before Mrs. Lee came down from her chamber, and
Sybil had not yet made her appearance. Madeleine rang her bell and gave
orders that, if Mr. Ratcliffe called she would see him, but she was at
home to no one else. Then she sat down to write letters and to prepare
for her journey to New York, for she must now hasten her departure in
order to escape the gossip and criticism which she saw hanging like an
avalanche over her head.

When Sybil at length came down, looking much fresher than her sister,
they passed an hour together arranging this and other small matters, so
that both of them were again in the best of spirits, and Sybil’s face
was wreathed in smiles.

A number of visitors came to the door that day, some of them prompted
by friendliness and some by sheer curiosity, for Mrs. Lee’s abrupt
disappearance from the ball had excited remark. Against all these her
door was firmly closed. On the other hand, as the afternoon went on, she
sent Sybil away, so that she might have the field entirely to herself,
and Sybil, relieved of all her alarms, sallied out to interrupt Dunbeg’s
latest interview with his Countess, and to amuse herself with Victoria’s
last “phase.”

Towards four o’clock the tall form of Mr. Ratcliffe was seen to issue
from the Treasury Department and to descend the broad steps of its
western front.

Turning deliberately towards the Square, the Secretary of the Treasury
crossed the Avenue and stopping at Mrs. Lee’s door, rang the bell. He
was immediately admitted. Mrs. Lee was alone in her parlour and rose
rather gravely as he entered, but welcomed him as cordially as she
could. She wanted to put an end to his hopes at once and to do it
decisively, but without hurting his feelings.

“Mr. Ratcliffe,” said she, when he was seated--“I am sure you will be
better pleased by my speaking instantly and frankly. I could not reply
to you last night. I will do so now without delay. What you wish is
impossible. I would rather not even discuss it. Let us leave it here and
return to our old relations.”

She could not force herself to express any sense of gratitude for his
affection, or of regret at being obliged to meet it with so little

To treat him with tolerable civility was all she thought required of

Ratcliffe felt the change of manner. He had been prepared for a
struggle, but not to be met with so blunt a rebuff at the start. His
look became serious and he hesitated a moment before speaking, but when
he spoke at last, it was with a manner as firm and decided as that of
Mrs. Lee herself.

“I cannot accept such an answer. I will not say that I have a right to
explanation,--I have no rights which you are bound to respect,--but from
you I conceive that I may at least ask the favour of one, and that you
will not refuse it. Are you willing to tell me your reasons for this
abrupt and harsh decision?”

“I do not dispute your right of explanation, Mr. Ratcliffe. You have
the right, if you choose to use it, and I am ready to give you every
explanation in my power; but I hope you will not insist on my doing so.
If I seemed to speak abruptly and harshly, it was merely to spare you
the greater annoyance of doubt. Since I am forced to give you pain, was
it not fairer and more respectful to you to speak at once? We have been
friends. I am very soon going away. I sincerely want to avoid saying or
doing anything that would change our relations.”

Ratcliffe, however, paid no attention to these words, and gave them no
answer. He was much too old a debater to be misled by such trifles, when
he needed all his faculties to pin his opponent to the wall. He asked:--

“Is your decision a new one?”

“It is a very old one, Mr. Ratcliffe, which I had let myself lose sight
of, for a time. A night’s reflection has brought me back to it.”

“May I ask why you have returned to it? surely you would not have
hesitated without strong reasons.”

“I will tell you frankly. If, by appearing to hesitate, I have misled
you, I am honestly sorry for it. I did not mean to do it. My hesitation
was owing to the doubt whether my life might not really be best used
in aiding you. My decision was owing to the certainty that we are not
fitted for each other. Our lives run in separate grooves. We are both
too old to change them.”

Ratcliffe shook his head with an air of relief. “Your reasons, Mrs. Lee,
are not sound. There is no such divergence in our lives. On the contrary
I can give to yours the field it needs, and that it can get in no other
way; while you can give to mine everything it now wants. If these are
your only reasons I am sure of being able to remove them.”

Madeleine looked as though she were not altogether pleased at this idea,
and became a little dogmatic. “It is no use our arguing on this subject,
Mr. Ratcliffe. You and I take very different views of life. I cannot
accept yours, and you could not practise on mine.”

“Show me,” said Ratcliffe, “a single example of such a divergence, and I
will accept your decision without another word.”

Mrs. Lee hesitated and looked at him for an instant as though to be
quite sure that he was in earnest. There was an effrontery about this
challenge which surprised her, and if she did not check it on the spot,
there was no saying how much trouble it might give her. Then unlocking
the drawer of the writing-desk at her elbow, she took out Carrington’s
letter and handed it to Mr. Ratcliffe.

“Here is such an example which has come to my knowledge very lately. I
meant to show it to you in any case, but I would rather have waited.”

Ratcliffe took the letter which she handed to him, opened it
deliberately, looked at the signature, and read. He showed no sign of
surprise or disturbance. No one would have imagined that he had, from
the moment he saw Carrington’s name, as precise a knowledge of what was
in this letter as though he had written it himself. His first sensation
was only one of anger that his projects had miscarried. How this had
happened he could not at once understand, for the idea that Sybil could
have a hand in it did not occur to him. He had made up his mind that
Sybil was a silly, frivolous girl, who counted for nothing in her
sister’s actions. He had fallen into the usual masculine blunder of
mixing up smartness of intelligence with strength of character. Sybil,
without being a metaphysician, willed anything which she willed at all
with more energy than her sister did, who was worn out with the effort
of life. Mr. Ratcliffe missed this point, and was left to wonder who
it was that had crossed his path, and how Carrington had managed to
be present and absent, to get a good office in Mexico and to baulk his
schemes in Washington, at the same time. He had not given Carrington
credit for so much cleverness.

He was violently irritated at the check. Another day, he thought, would
have made him safe on this side; and possibly he was right. Had he once
succeeded in getting ever so slight a hold on Mrs. Lee he would have
told her this story with his own colouring, and from his own point of
view, and he fully believed he could do this in such a way as to rouse
her sympathy. Now that her mind was prejudiced, the task would be much
more difficult; yet he did not despair, for it was his theory that Mrs.
Lee, in the depths of her soul, wanted to be at the head of the White
House as much as he wanted to be there himself, and that her apparent
coyness was mere feminine indecision in the face of temptation. His
thoughts now turned upon the best means of giving again the upper hand
to her ambition. He wanted to drive Carrington a second time from the

Thus it was that, having read the letter once in order to learn what was
in it, he turned back, and slowly read it again in order to gain time.
Then he replaced it in its envelope, and returned it to Mrs. Lee, who,
with equal calmness, as though her interest in it were at an end,
tossed it negligently into the fire, where it was reduced to ashes under
Ratcliffe’s eyes.

He watched it burn for a moment, and then turning to her, said, with his
usual composure, “I meant to have told you of that affair myself. I am
sorry that Mr. Carrington has thought proper to forestall me. No doubt
he has his own motives for taking my character in charge.”

“Then it is true!” said Mrs. Lee, a little more quickly than she had
meant to speak.

“True in its leading facts; untrue in some of its details, and in the
impression it creates. During the Presidential election which took place
eight years ago last autumn, there was, as you may remember, a violent
contest and a very close vote. We believed (though I was not so
prominent in the party then as now), that the result of that election
would be almost as important to the nation as the result of the
war itself. Our defeat meant that the government must pass into
the blood-stained hands of rebels, men whose designs were more than
doubtful, and who could not, even if their designs had been good,
restrain the violence of their followers. In consequence we strained
every nerve. Money was freely spent, even to an amount much in excess of
our resources. How it was employed, I will not say.

“I do not even know, for I held myself aloof from these details, which
fell to the National Central Committee of which I was not a member.
The great point was that a very large sum had been borrowed on pledged
securities, and must be repaid. The members of the National Committee
and certain senators held discussions on the subject, in which I shared.
The end was that towards the close of the session the head of the
committee, accompanied by two senators, came to me and told me that I
must abandon my opposition to the Steamship Subsidy. They made no open
avowal of their reasons, and I did not press for one. Their declaration,
as the responsible heads of the organization, that certain action on my
part was essential to the interests of the party, satisfied me. I did
not consider myself at liberty to persist in a mere private opinion in
regard to a measure about which I recognized the extreme likelihood of
my being in error. I accordingly reported the bill, and voted for it, as
did a large majority of the party. Mrs. Baker is mistaken in saying
that the money was paid to me. If it was paid at all, of which I have no
knowledge except from this letter, it was paid to the representative of
the National Committee. I received no money. I had nothing to do with
the money further than as I might draw my own conclusions in regard to
the subsequent payment of the campaign debt.”

Mrs. Lee listened to all this with intense interest. Not until this
moment had she really felt as though she had got to the heart of
politics, so that she could, like a physician with his stethoscope,
measure the organic disease. Now at last she knew why the pulse beat
with such unhealthy irregularity, and why men felt an anxiety which they
could not or would not explain. Her interest in the disease overcame
her disgust at the foulness of the revelation. To say that the
discovery gave her actual pleasure would be doing her injustice; but the
excitement of the moment swept away every other sensation. She did not
even think of herself. Not until afterwards did she fairly grasp the
absurdity of Ratcliffe’s wish that in the face of such a story as this,
she should still have vanity enough to undertake the reform of politics.
And with his aid too! The audacity of the man would have seemed sublime
if she had felt sure that he knew the difference between good and evil,
between a lie and the truth; but the more she saw of him, the surer she
was that his courage was mere moral paralysis, and that he talked about
virtue and vice as a man who is colour-blind talks about red and green;
he did not see them as she saw them; if left to choose for himself he
would have nothing to guide him. Was it politics that had caused this
atrophy of the moral senses by disuse? Meanwhile, here she sat face to
face with a moral lunatic, who had not even enough sense of humour to
see the absurdity of his own request, that she should go out to the
shore of this ocean of corruption, and repeat the ancient rôle of King
Canute, or Dame Partington with her mop and her pail. What was to be
done with such an animal?

The bystander who looked on at this scene with a wider knowledge of
facts, might have found entertainment in another view of the subject,
that is to say, in the guilelessness ot Madeleine Lee. With all her
warnings she was yet a mere baby-in-arms in the face of the great
politician. She accepted his story as true, and she thought it as bad as
possible; but had Mr.

Ratcliffe’s associates now been present to hear his version of it, they
would have looked at each other with a smile of professional pride, and
would have roundly sworn that he was, beyond a doubt, the ablest man
this country had ever produced, and next to certain of being President.
They would not, however, have told their own side of the story if they
could have helped it, but in talking it over among themselves they might
have assumed the facts to have been nearly as follows: that Ratcliffe
had dragged them into an enormous expenditure to carry his own State,
and with it his own re-election to the Senate; that they had tried to
hold him responsible, and he had tried to shirk the responsibility;
that there had been warm discussions on the subject; that he himself
had privately suggested recourse to Baker, had shaped his conduct
accordingly, and had compelled them, in order to save their own credit,
to receive the money.

Even if Mrs. Lee had heard this part of the story, though it might
have sharpened her indignation against Mr. Ratcliffe, it would not have
altered her opinions. As it was, she had heard enough, and with a great
effort to control her expression of disgust, she sank back in her chair
as Ratcliffe concluded. Finding that she did not speak, he went on:

“I do not undertake to defend this affair. It is the act of my public
life which I most regret--not the doing, but the necessity of doing. I
do not differ from you in opinion on that point. I cannot acknowledge
that there is here any real divergence between us.”

“I am afraid,” said Mrs. Lee, “that I cannot agree with you.”

This brief remark, the very brevity of which carried a barb of sarcasm,
escaped from Madeleine’s lips before she had fairly intended it.
Ratcliffe felt the sting, and it started him from his studied calmness
of manner.

Rising from his chair he stood on the hearthrug before Mrs. Lee, and
broke out upon her with an oration in that old senatorial voice and
style which was least calculated to enlist her sympathies:

“Mrs. Lee,” said he, with harsh emphasis and dogmatic tone, “there are
conflicting duties in all the transactions of life, except the simplest.
However we may act, do what we may, we must violate some moral
obligation. All that can be asked of us is that we should guide
ourselves by what we think the highest. At the time this affair
occurred, I was a Senator of the United States. I was also a trusted
member of a great political party which I looked upon as identical with
the nation. In both capacities I owed duties to my constituents, to the
government, to the people. I might interpret these duties narrowly or
broadly. I might say: Perish the government, perish the Union, perish
this people, rather than that I should soil my hands! Or I might say, as
I did, and as I would say again: Be my fate what it may, this glorious
Union, the last hope of suffering humanity, shall be preserved.”

Here he paused, and seeing that Mrs. Lee, after looking for a time at
him, was now regarding the fire, lost in meditation over the strange
vagaries of the senatorial mind, he resumed, in another line of
argument. He rightly judged that there must be some moral defect in his
last remarks, although he could not see it, which made persistence in
that direction useless.

“You ought not to blame me--you cannot blame me justly. It is to your
sense of justice I appeal. Have I ever concealed from you my opinions on
this subject? Have I not on the contrary always avowed them? Did I
not here, on this very spot, when challenged once before by this same
Carrington, take credit for an act less defensible than this? Did I not
tell you then that I had even violated the sanctity of a great popular
election and reversed its result? That was my sole act! In comparison
with it, this is a trifle! Who is injured by a steamship company
subscribing one or ten hundred thousand dollars to a campaign fund?
Whose rights are affected by it? Perhaps its stock holders receive one
dollar a share in dividends less than they otherwise would. If they
do not complain, who else can do so? But in that election I deprived a
million people of rights which belonged to them as absolutely as their
houses! You could not say that I had done wrong. Not a word of blame or
criticism have you ever uttered to me on that account. If there was an
offence, you condoned it! You certainly led me to suppose that you saw
none. Why are you now so severe upon the smaller crime?”

This shot struck hard. Mrs. Lee visibly shrank under it, and lost her
composure. This was the same reproach she had made against herself, and
to which she had been able to find no reply. With some agitation she

“Mr. Ratcliffe, pray do me justice! I have tried not to be severe. I
have said nothing in the way of attack or blame. I acknowledge that it
is not my place to stand in judgment over your acts. I have more reason
to blame myself than you, and God knows I have blamed myself bitterly.”
 The tears stood in her eyes as she said these last words, and her voice

Ratcliffe saw that he had gained an advantage, and, sitting down
nearer to her, he dropped his voice and urged his suit still more

“You did me justice then; why not do it now? You were convinced then
that I did the best I could. I have always done so. On the other hand
I have never pretended that all my acts could be justified by abstract
morality. Where, then, is the divergence between us?”

Mrs. Lee did not undertake to answer this last argument: she only
returned to her old ground. “Mr. Ratcliffe,” she said, “I do not want
to argue this question. I have no doubt that you can overcome me in
argument. Perhaps on my side this is a matter of feeling rather than of
reason, but the truth is only too evident to me that I am not fitted
for politics. I should be a drag upon you. Let me be the judge of my own
weakness! Do not insist upon pressing me, further!”

She was ashamed of herself for this appeal to a man whom she could not
respect, as though she were a suppliant at his mercy, but she feared the
reproach of having deceived him, and she tried pitiably to escape it.

Ratcliffe was only encouraged by her weakness.

“I must insist upon pressing it, Mrs. Lee,” replied he, and he became
yet more earnest as he went on; “my future is too deeply involved in
your decision to allow of my accepting your answer as final. I need your
aid. There is nothing I will not do to obtain it. Do you require
affection? mine for you is boundless. I am ready to prove it by a life
of devotion. Do you doubt my sincerity? test it in whatever way you
please. Do you fear being dragged down to the level of ordinary
politicians? so far as concerns myself, my great wish is to have your
help in purifying politics. What higher ambition can there be than to
serve one’s country for such an end? Your sense of duty is too keen not
to feel that the noblest objects which can inspire any woman, combine to
point out your course.”

Mrs. Lee was excessively uncomfortable, although not in the least

She began to see that she must take a stronger tone if she meant to
bring this importunity to an end, and she answered:--

“I do not doubt your affection or your sincerity, Mr. Ratcliffe. It
is myself I doubt. You have been kind enough to give me much of your
confidence this winter, and if I do not yet know about politics all that
is to be known, I have learned enough to prove that I could do nothing
sillier than to suppose myself competent to reform anything. If I
pretended to think so, I should be a mere worldly, ambitious woman, such
as people think me. The idea of my purifying politics is absurd. I am
sorry to speak so strongly, but I mean it. I do not cling very closely
to life, and do not value my own very highly, but I will not tangle it
in such a way; I will not share the profits of vice; I am not willing to
be made a receiver of stolen goods, or to be put in a position where I
am perpetually obliged to maintain that immorality is a virtue!”

As she went on she became more and more animated and her words took a
sharper edge than she had intended. Ratcliffe felt it, and showed his
annoyance. His face grew dark and his eyes looked out at her with their
ugliest expression. He even opened his mouth for an angry retort, but
controlled himself with an effort, and presently resumed his argument.

“I had hoped,” he began more solemnly than ever, “that I should find in
you a lofty courage which would disregard such risks. If all the men and
women were to take the tone you have taken, our government would soon
perish. If you consent to share my career, I do not deny that you may
find less satisfaction than I hope, but you will lead a mere death in
life if you place yourself like a saint on a solitary column. I plead
what I believe to be your own cause in pleading mine. Do not sacrifice
your life!”

Mrs. Lee was in despair. She could not reply what was on her lips, that
to marry a murderer or a thief was not a sure way of diminishing crime.
She had already said something so much like this that she shrank from
speaking more plainly. So she fell back on her old theme.

“We must at all events, Mr. Ratcliffe, use our judgments according to
our own consciences. I can only repeat now what I said at first. I am
sorry to seem insensible to your expressions towards me, but I cannot do
what you wish. Let us maintain our old relations if you will, but do not
press me further on this subject.”

Ratcliffe grew more and more sombre as he became aware that defeat was
staring him in the face. He was tenacious of purpose, and he had never
in his life abandoned an object which he had so much at heart as
this. He would not abandon it. For the moment, so completely had the
fascination of Mrs.

Lee got the control of him, he would rather have abandoned the
Presidency itself than her. He really loved her as earnestly as it was
in his nature to love anything. To her obstinacy he would oppose
an obstinacy greater still; but in the meanwhile his attack was
disconcerted, and he was at a loss what next to do. Was it not possible
to change his ground; to offer inducements that would appeal even more
strongly to feminine ambition and love of display than the Presidency
itself? He began again:--

“Is there no form of pledge I can give you? no sacrifice I can make?
You dislike politics. Shall I leave political life? I will do anything
rather than lose you. I can probably control the appointment of Minister
to England. The President would rather have me there than here. Suppose
I were to abandon politics and take the English mission. Would that
sacrifice not affect you? You might pass four years in London where
there would be no politics, and where your social position would be
the best in the world; and this would lead to the Presidency almost
as surely as the other.” Then suddenly, seeing that he was making no
headway, he threw off his studied calmness and broke out in an appeal of
almost equally studied violence.

“Mrs. Lee! Madeleine! I cannot live without you. The sound of your
voice--the touch of your hand--even the rustle of your dress--are like
wine to me. For God’s sake, do not throw me over!”

He meant to crush opposition by force. More and more vehement as he
spoke he actually bent over and tried to seize her hand. She drew it
back as though he were a reptile. She was exasperated by this obstinate
disregard of her forbearance, this gross attempt to bribe her with
office, this flagrant abandonment of even a pretence of public virtue;
the mere thought of his touch on her person was more repulsive than
a loathsome disease. Bent upon teaching him a lesson he would never
forget, she spoke out abruptly, and with evident signs of contempt in
her voice and manner:

“Mr. Ratcliffe, I am not to be bought. No rank, no dignity, no
consideration, no conceivable expedient would induce me to change my
mind. Let us have no more of this!”

Ratcliffe had already been more than once, during this conversation, on
the verge of losing his temper. Naturally dictatorial and violent, only
long training and severe experience had taught him self-control, and
when he gave way to passion his bursts of fury were still tremendous.
Mrs. Lee’s evident personal disgust, even more than her last sharp
rebuke, passed the bounds of his patience. As he stood before her, even
she, high-spirited as she was, and not in a calm frame of mind, felt a
momentary shock at seeing how his face flushed, his eyes gleamed, and
his hands trembled with rage.

“Ah!” exclaimed he, turning upon her with a harshness, almost a
savageness, of manner that startled her still more; “I might have known
what to expect! Mrs. Clinton warned me early. She said then that I
should find you a heartless coquette!”

“Mr. Ratcliffe!” exclaimed Madeleine, rising from her chair, and
speaking in a warning voice almost as passionate as his own.

“A heartless coquette!” he repeated, still more harshly than before;
“she said you would do just this! that you meant to deceive me! that you
lived on flattery! that you could never be anything but a coquette, and
that if you married me, I should repent it all my life. I believe her

Mrs. Lee’s temper, too, was naturally a high one. At this moment she,
too, was flaming with anger, and wild with a passionate impulse to
annihilate this man. Conscious that the mastery was in her own hands,
she could the more easily control her voice, and with an expression of
unutterable contempt she spoke her last words to him, words which had
been ringing all day in her ears:

“Mr. Ratcliffe! I have listened to you with a great deal more patience
and respect than you deserve. For one long hour I have degraded myself
by discussing with you the question whether I should marry a man who by
his own confession has betrayed the highest trusts that could be placed
in him, who has taken money for his votes as a Senator, and who is now
in public office by means of a successful fraud of his own, when in
justice he should be in a State’s prison. I will have no more of this.
Understand, once for all, that there is an impassable gulf between your
life and mine. I do not doubt that you will make yourself President, but
whatever or wherever you are, never speak to me or recognize me again!”

He glared a moment into her face with a sort of blind rage, and seemed
about to say more, when she swept past him, and before he realized it,
he was alone.

Overmastered by passion, but conscious that he was powerless, Ratcliffe,
after a moment’s hesitation, left the room and the house. He let himself
out, shutting the front door behind him, and as he stood on the pavement
old Baron Jacobi, who had special reasons for wishing to know how Mrs.
Lee had recovered from the fatigue and excitements of the ball, came up
to the spot.

A single glance at Ratcliffe showed him that something had gone wrong in
the career of that great man, whose fortunes he always followed with so
bitter a sneer of contempt. Impelled by the spirit of evil always at his
elbow, the Baron seized this moment to sound the depth of his friend’s
wound. They met at the door so closely that recognition was inevitable,
and Jacobi, with his worst smile, held out his hand, saying at the same
moment with diabolic malignity:

“I hope I may offer my felicitations to your Excellency!”

Ratcliffe was glad to find some victim on whom he could vent his rage.
He had a long score of humiliations to repay this man, whose last insult
was beyond all endurance. With an oath he dashed Jacobi’s hand aside,
and, grasping his shoulder, thrust him out of the path. The Baron, among
whose weaknesses the want of high temper and personal courage was not
recorded, had no mind to tolerate such an insult from such a man. Even
while Ratcliffe’s hand was still on his shoulder he had raised his cane,
and before the Secretary saw what was coming, the old man had struck him
with all his force full in the face. For a moment Ratcliffe staggered
back and grew pale, but the shock sobered him. He hesitated a single
instant whether to crush his assailant with a blow, but he felt that
for one of his youth and strength, to attack an infirm diplomatist in
a public street would be a fatal blunder, and while Jacobi stood,
violently excited, with his cane raised ready to strike another blow,
Mr. Ratcliffe suddenly turned his back and without a word, hastened

When Sybil returned, not long afterwards, she found no one in the

On going to her sister’s room she discovered Madeleine lying on the
couch, looking worn and pale, but with a slight smile and a peaceful
expression on her face, as though she had done some act which her
conscience approved. She called Sybil to her side, and, taking her hand,

“Sybil, dearest, will you go abroad with me again?”

“Of course I will,” said Sybil; “I will go to the end of the world with

“I want to go to Egypt,” said Madeleine, still smiling faintly;
“democracy has shaken my nerves to pieces. Oh, what rest it would be to
live in the Great Pyramid and look out for ever at the polar star!”



“My dear Mr. Carrington,

“I promised to write you, and so, to keep my
promise, and also because my sister wishes me to tell you about our
plans, I send this letter. We have left Washington--for ever, I am
afraid--and are going to Europe next month.

You must know that a fortnight ago, Lord Skye gave a great ball to
the Grand-Duchess of something-or-other quite unspellable. I never can
describe things, but it was all very fine. I wore a lovely new dress,
and was a great success, I assure you. So was Madeleine, though she
had to sit most of the evening by the Princess--such a dowdy! The Duke
danced with me several times; he can’t reverse, but that doesn’t seem to
matter in a Grand-Duke.

Well! things came to a crisis at the end of the evening. I followed your
directions, and after we got home gave your letter to Madeleine.
She says she has burned it. I don’t know what happened afterwards--a
tremendous scene, I suspect, but Victoria Dare writes me from Washington
that every one is talking about M.’s refusal of Mr. R., and a dreadful
thing that took place on our very doorstep between Mr. R. and Baron
Jacobi, the day after the ball. She says there was a regular pitched
battle, and the Baron struck him over the face with his cane. You know
how afraid Madeleine was that they would do something of the sort in our
parlour. I’m glad they waited till they were in the street. But isn’t
it shocking! They say the Baron is to be sent away, or recalled, or
something. I like the old gentleman, and for his sake am glad duelling
is gone out of fashion, though I don’t much believe Mr. Silas P.
Ratcliffe could hit anything. The Baron passed through here three days
ago on his summer trip to Europe. He left his card on us, but we
were out, and did not see him. We are going over in July with the
Schneidekoupons, and Mr. Schneidekoupon has promised to send his yacht
to the Mediterranean, so that we shall sail about there after finishing
the Nile, and see Jerusalem and Gibraltar and Constantinople. I think
it will be perfectly lovely. I hate ruins, but I fancy you can buy
delicious things in Constantinople. Of course, after what has happened,
we can never go back to Washington. I shall miss our rides dreadfully.
I read Mr. Browning’s ‘Last Ride Together,’ as you told me; I think it’s
beautiful and perfectly easy, all but a little. I never could understand
a word of him before--so I never tried. Who do you think is engaged?
Victoria Dare, to a coronet and a peat-bog, with Lord Dunbeg attached.
Victoria says she is happier than she ever was before in any of her
other engagements, and she is sure this is the real one. She says she
has thirty thousand a year derived from the poor of America, which may
just as well go to relieve one of the poor in Ireland.

You know her father was a claim agent, or some such thing, and is said
to have made his money by cheating his clients out of their claims.
She is perfectly wild to be a countess, and means to make Castle Dunbeg
lovely by-and-by, and entertain us all there. Madeleine says she is just
the kind to be a great success in London. Madeleine is very well, and
sends her kind regards. I believe she is going to add a postscript.
I have promised to let her read this, but I don’t think a chaperoned
letter is much fun to write or receive. Hoping to hear from you soon,

“Sincerely yours,

“Sybil Ross.”

Enclosed was a thin strip of paper containing another message from
Sybil, privately inserted at the last moment unknown to Mrs. Lee--

“If I were in your place I would try again after she comes home.”

Mrs. Lee’s P.S. was very short--

“The bitterest part of all this horrid story is that nine out of ten of
our countrymen would say I had made a mistake.”

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Democracy, an American novel" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.